After “The Witch” and “The Lighthouse,” director Robert Eggers follows up with his biggest film to date: THE NORTHMAN is a star-studded Viking epic. We reveal in our review how much of Eggers’ beginnings there is in it.
OT: The Northman (USA 2022)
The year 895: Viking King Aurvandil (Ethan Hawke) returns home after a journey to his wife Gudrún (Nicole Kidman) and his young son Amleth (Oscar Novak). Aurvandil considers him old enough to be taught how to become a real man and a feared leader. But someone else has his eye on the throne: Aurvandil’s cunning, envious brother Fjölnir (Claes Bang), who will one day secure control of the empire through a cold-blooded assassination attempt. Amleth is able to escape and grows into a muscular warrior (Alexander Skarsgård) far away. After a disturbing apparition, he returns to his home kingdom, falls in love with the slave Olga (Anya Taylor-Joy) and plans to overthrow his treacherous uncle…
The Icelandic poet, writer and songwriter Sjón is not the most prominent name his homeland has produced. But the regular Björk collaborator is currently on a roll that should earn him respect in the genre-savvy film fan community: just a few months after the mix of relationship drama and horror story he co-wrote called “Lamb,” “The Northman” follows, a daring, ambitious mix of adventure epic, historical drama and fantasy arthouse horror, which he came up with together with director Robert Eggers. The two films would make an excellent double feature, as they both show a stylistic similarity that speaks for Sjón’s recognizable signature, as well as the fact that they pursue completely different tonalities. And they are both unmistakably artistic expressions of the co-authoring directors with whom Sjón worked.
Alexander Skarsgård as the battle-crazed Viking Amleth.
Because “The Northman” is without a doubt the result of what happens when the director of the “Religious delusion and complete isolation have harrowing sequences” historical horror drama “The Witch” first refines his directorial skills with “The Lighthouse,” and is then given a budget that even experienced directors felt overwhelmed by in the 1990s. On the one hand, it is perhaps Eggers’ most accessible film because the visual values move away from the conscious, complete reduction of “The Witch” and the film-nostalgic aesthetic gimmicks of “The Lighthouse” in order to develop into a material battle suitable for the masses: historical ships at sea. Dozens of men in warrior clothing that revives centuries past. Villages built from wood, rope, fur and straw that are explored and attacked. Supernatural, eerie apparitions (including Björk without eyes, but with kilos of jewelry). Swords, axes, bows, arrows and fire. Mud and devastation. Fans of historical adventure epics like “The 13th Warrior”, Graham Baker’s “Beowulf”, Antoine Fuqua’s “King Arthur” or of course “The Vikings” and “Raid of the Vikings” will probably have their mouths watering.
“On the one hand, it is perhaps Eggers’ most accessible film because the visual values move away from the conscious, complete reduction of ‘The Witch’ and the film-nostalgic aesthetic gimmicks of ‘The Lighthouse’ in order to develop into a material battle suitable for the masses: historical ships at sea . At the same time, the director remains true to himself.”
At the same time, Robert Eggers remains true to himself – and therefore, paradoxically, through the two or three steps he takes to accommodate the broader audience, he ensures that “The Northman” is his strangest (in a delightful way) film to date. Because despite some film references and some use of bone-dry, juvenile humor (they’re smacking, smelly testosterone balloons on two legs, of course they make fart jokes and similar nonsense) and a quickly told story about vendetta: “The Northman” is anything but free of uncomfortable corners and edges. This was also true for “The Witch” and “The Lighthouse”, but they never lulled their audience into escapism. “The Northman,” on the other hand, rocks back and forth like a Viking ship on a stormy sea between muddy, smoke-filled, bloodlust entertainment and rude breaks with it. With the help of archaeologist Neil Price, “The Northman” sometimes aims for a high level of historical accuracy – but Eggers stages the Viking faith from the perspective of convinced full-blooded Vikings and therefore takes it at face value. In addition to nocturnal visions with an A24 horror film atmosphere, there are also occasional fantasy touches. And these fun loosening up or exciting genre-thrill breaks with the adventure epic presentation are offset by language that is significantly more cumbersome than in the material battles mentioned above. And then there is the much more critical attitude towards what is shown.
Anya Taylor-Joy’s presence as Olga creates a mystical atmosphere.
Nothing like “just sit back and enjoy a journey into another setting”: As in “The Witch” and “The Lighthouse”, in “The Northman” the setting is the real main villain of the material. Identifying figures are few and far between and are consistently broken, characters constantly sabotage themselves with their stubborn convictions and the peaks of violence are generally somewhere on a scale from unpleasant to disgusting – Eggers doesn’t wallow in joy in bloody excess. It’s a stormy wave that Eggers maneuvers himself into with a stubbornness that his characters would be proud of. But in contrast to his characters, Eggers masters the chaos he has chosen for himself nimbly: through the tonal unpredictability he intensifies the tension, while he implements the individual sections of the film in an atmospherically dense and staging-coherent way, so that this ship called “The Northman” does not stand out Waves cause the boat to capsize. The visuals are icy, dirty, unnerving and imposing – and the cast is heavily used. Especially Willem Dafoe (“Nightmare Alley”) as the excited court jester/shaman, Alexander Skarsgård (“Godzilla vs. Kong”) as the angry Viking prince and Anya Taylor-Joy (“Last Night in Soho”) as a collection of several genre archetypes speaking with a thick accent:
“Identification figures are few and far between and are consistently broken, characters are constantly sabotaging themselves with their stubborn convictions and the peaks of violence are generally somewhere on a scale from unpleasant to disgusting – Eggers doesn’t wallow in joy in bloody excess.”
Sorceress, damsel in distress, caring partner and fierce fighter for better values. A mishmash that certainly seems erratic and arbitrary when written down like this – but with good playing it creates a harmonious whole. Taylor-Joy is, so to speak, the symbol of “The Northman” in “The Northman”.
Conclusion: “The Northman” is a dirty, icy adventure epic, grippingly crossed with the distinctive, non-conformist, artistic signature of “The Lighthouse” director Robert Eggers.
“The Northman” can be seen in USA cinemas from April 21, 2022.