The Northman – Review

Cert – 15, Run-time – 2 hours 17 minutes, Director – Robert Eggers

When his father, the king (Ethan Hawke), is killed by his uncle (Claes Bang) a Viking prince (Alexander Skarsgård) spends years vowing to track down the murderer to exact his revenge.

While it may not be in the horror vein, co-writer (alongside Icelandic novelist and poet Sjón) and director Robert Eggers conjures up just as much terrifying atmosphere within his latest, The Northman, as his two previous features, The Lighthouse and The Witch. It comes in the relentless noise of animalistic rituals, dances and battle cries. The camera crawls towards Alexander Skarsgård’s once-prince Amleth as he stomps and writhes and howls, releasing his inner wolf and the fury that comes with it. Screaming his pain and anger into the fire in front of him, harbouring years of rage towards his uncle (Claes Bang) for having killed his father, the king, (Ethan Hawke) and kidnapped his mother (Nicole Kidman). His stance and viewpoint has changed little since he managed to escape as a child (the younger Amleth played by Oscar Novak). The phrase throughout the trailers “I will avenge you father. I will save you mother. I will kill you Fjölnir” echoes across the film as Amleth tracks down Fjölnir, stowing away as a slave, and preparing to kill him.

As mentioned, the atmosphere flows thick throughout the course of the narrative. There are hints of Eggers’ fantastic debut The Witch when it comes to the lingering threats and tension at play as Amleth plays with his uncles mind, and attacks those in the small Icelandic clan he has formed, in the build up to killing him. Such feelings are mixed in with tones that feel reminiscent of The Revenant when it comes to the brutal attacks. Blood sprays, splutters, spurts and pours across the wet, cold and muddy landscapes showing anything but a clean battle. There’s no denying the gory nature of the film, adding to the intense feel on many occasions, and at times the fear factor that a handful of moments hold. The detail which helps bring you further into the world which Eggers, and his creative team, have so cinematically created. Add to that the roaring sound blared from the cinema speakers and you’re forced into plenty of the moments, up close and right in front of the characters as they attack and below with their vengeful fury.

This isn’t to say that the film is all brutality and shouting. There are plenty of quieter narrative based moments as Amleth builds up his plan, involving the slaves around him; including the young woman he begins to form a relationship with, Olga (Anya Taylor-Joy). On plenty of occasions what brings you in is the tactical execution of some of these plans, executed (sometimes in more ways than one) in the middle of the night while others are distracted. The camera tracks the characters almost like they’re in a spy thriller, yet never detracts from the dark drama that’s at play. One which knows how to use mythology and elements of folklore to progress and deepen the narrative while never allowing it to feel bogged down. Perhaps not led as much as his two previous features by such content there’s still plenty within The Northman to enhance a lingering sense of mysticism about the piece – and not just when relating to the idea of riding to Valhalla.

The night is often separated from the daylight, questioning whether certain elements are dreams or reality. What is a genuine foretelling and what is in Amleth’s mind, it comes in the almost black and white nature of his encounter with a seeress (Björk). The image isn’t completely in black and white, simply drained of colour, adding to the strange, otherworldly nature of the moment that while sticking out from the brutality of what surrounds it works perfectly in progressing the narrative and further heating up the central figure’s burning want for revenge. Aside from perhaps the final stages where the film begins to slightly show its run-time there’s plenty of consistency that keeps you in place for the duration of the film and allows for a work of true cinematic spectacle, that may even improve upon rewatches. Just make sure to see this big and loud, much like the impact of the film, for the true thundering effect that Robert Eggers and his team have conjured up. Perhaps not something of the mainstream, but for it to have been released to mainstream cinemas is just another item on the list for the boldness of The Northman.

Brutal, loud, gory, violent, intense, terrifying, cinematic; there’s plenty to love about the visual and audible atmosphere that runs throughout The Northman. It may slightly begin to show its run-time, but the elements remain intact throughout for an almighty roar of a Viking experience.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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