In 895 AD, the young Prince Amleth is on the verge of becoming a man as his father King Aurvandill (Ethan Hawke) returns to his kingdom from battle. However, betrayal strikes when the king is brutally murdered by his brother, Fjölnir (Claes Bang), and claims the kingdom and Queen Gudrún (Nicole Kidman). Two decades later, Amleth (Alexander Skarsgård) is now a stowaway Viking who raids Slavic villages. He soon meets a Seeress (Björk) and sorceress Olga (Anya Taylor-Joy), who bring Amleth back to the path of his vow – save his mother, kill his uncle, and avenge his father.
With the recent wave of new talented filmmakers, especially from the A24 club, Robert Eggers has stood out as a name to look out for. Bringing a chilling atmosphere and the horrors of adulthood in The VVitch (2015) and a surreal take on isolation and masculinity in The Lighthouse (2019), Eggers made a stamp of masterpieces in the 2010’s very early in his directing career. And the sophomore slump has definitely not set in with this epic and grand take on Viking lore. Playing with a bigger budget, The Northman showcases a wider scale than Eggers has ever brought, with terrifically choreographed and brutal action sequences in the centre of jawdropping landscapes. The Northman is definitely worth soaking the visuals on a massive screen.
While the story does portray a very straightforward Hamlet-style revenge story and clear motivations from morally complex characters, The Northman does often flow into obscure Viking folklore. While historians or diehard Viking fanatics may get a kick out of references to Valhalla, Odin, Valkyries, and even more imagery that’ll turn this review into a year 12 analysis, others might leave the movie scratching their heads. While not a lot is explained, it’s not necessarily talking down to you for not understanding either. Repeat viewings may be required! Regardless, it does not take away from the emotional impact given by the amazing cast, especially Skarsgård and his eight pack, or Hawke, Kidman, and Taylor-Joy.
Overall, The Northman is a genuinely epic and brutal revenge story that is both simple, yet also complex. If you love Viking tales, I couldn’t imagine a better experience for you, but if you’re looking for an action movie with an emotionally driven force, The Northman is certainly worth a watch. Just remember that it doesn’t hold your hand along the way. Can’t wait for Eggers’ next projects, hopefully, one will be titled The Noun!
The Northman is in Australian cinemas now.