Robert Eggers shifts away from the hallucinatory horror of his first two efforts (The Witch and The Lighthouse) and veers more into hallucinatory history with The Northman, a nightmarish Viking epic built upon a threadbare revenge plotline.
Alexander Skarsgard plays Amieth, a vengeance-seeking Viking who had his kingdom and family taken from him when he was a child—and as a result, he’s super-pissed off. The evil-doer is his lousy uncle Fjolnir (Claes Bang) who kidnapped his mom (Nicole Kidman, in fine form) and did cruel things to Amieth’s dad (Ethan Hawke, who proves here why he’s one of my favorite-all-time actors). After a prelude in which Amieth is a youngster, a time jump takes us to Amieth as a supremely grouchy, super-buff adult with major daddy issues.
This leads to that, and Amieth finds himself in a situation in which he can exact revenge in bloody fashion. There’s a good twist, lots of mud and a nasty volcano that’s always ready to blow for simmering ambience.
Eggers alums Anya Taylor-Joy and Willem Dafoe help round out a good cast; everyone is game for some northern mayhem.
The movie looks terrific. Eggers is an expert craftsman behind the camera; he’s one of those directors who doesn’t waste a second of film on anything that is less than visually impressive.
While The Northman is the overall weakest of his three films, it is, strangely, the most accessible in some ways. It has a straightforward, simple plot, with minimal supernatural elements, and a commitment to a certain nasty vibe. It doesn’t cut as deep as his other films, which shook the insides in ways that had you still messed up weeks after viewing. The Northman entertains, but it doesn’t cut very deep.
I’m curious to see what the man does next. Maybe he’ll do something smaller, and perhaps lighthearted. (Ha ha ha … a light-hearted Eggers film! I crack myself up!) There has been talk of him remaking Nosferatu with Anya Taylor-Joy in his cast, but nothing is firm yet. There’s no question about it: He’s established himself as a sure thing when it comes to visually outstanding, disturbing cinema.
The Northman is playing at theaters across the valley.