“The Northman” is an early lock for the most polarizing film of 2022. Some people are going to love it and others are going to hate it, there isn’t much room in between.
Robert Eggers has created a newfound love among critics thanks to his work on horror films such as “The Witch” and “The Lighthouse.” When you see the trailer for “The Northman”, it is easy to see that Eggers is going for a Viking film that plays into the popularity of television such as Vikings and Game of Thrones.
What the film turned into was the cinematic equivalent of a bad acid trip.
Set in In A.D. 895, “The Northman” is a film about King Aurvandill War-Raven (Ethan Hawke) who returns to the island of Hrafnsey after a series of conquests. He is reunited with his wife, Queen Gudrún (Nicole Kidman), and their son Prince Amleth (Alexander Skarsgård).
The King takes his son to participate in a spiritual ceremony overseen by Aurvandill’s jester, Heimir. The next morning, masked warriors led by Aurvandill’s brother, Fjölnir (Claes Bang), ambush, and murder the king. Amleth manages to flee by boat swearing to avenge his father, save his mother and kill Fjölnir.
Several years pass and Amleth returns home to the land he left out of exile to discover that Fjölnir and Gudrun have has another child named Thorir the Proud (Gustav Lindh). Amleth must avenge the death of his father and reclaim the throne as the King.
“The Northman” is a 137-minute epic that doesn’t find its footing until the 3rd act and the film isn’t exactly a pleasant drive to that point. The acting is the best feature of the film as everyone performs at a pace that requires an over-the-top performance. It is the writing that leaves a lot to be desired. The opening act is like a bad peyote trip and if you don’t enter the film with a solid understanding of the era the film is portraying, you can be lost within minutes.
“The Northman” throws you straight into the deep end without a proper understanding of the characters.
Once you get to the ritual scene of hallucinogens, farting, and eating slop like dogs, you may mentally make the decision to second guess what you are even watching. Unlike a film like “Everything Everywhere All at Once” that wears its goofiness like a $500 sweater, “The Northman” is a film that expects you to take it seriously.
Due to its brutal nature, the film truly doesn’t have a protagonist. The main conflict centers around a man who is just above a caveman in personally getting long awaited vengeance on his Uncle. There is a fundamental lack of connection with this movie due to ideas not being fleshed out to its potential.
Now the film does finish strong with a battle scene which is one of the biggest cinematic showdowns in years, however, it is a rough two hour ride to get to that point and now every twist and turn is justified to get us there.
Robert Eggers may have a solid indy fanbase but “The Northman” bites off far more than it can chew to be the big budget epic that it wants to be.