Robert Eggers is a filmmaker that has come onto the scene with The Witch in 2015. His horror film is set in the 1700s in colonial America. It caused quite the stir in the film community. Then he broke out with his sophomore outing at the Cannes Film Festival in 2019 with The Lighthouse, a black and white period piece set at a lighthouse off the coast of Maine. His next film, The Northman, might be the most straightforward of his three films to date, but that doesn’t make it any less of a mind f#%k.
A young Viking child is on the cusp of becoming a man in his civilization when his father (Ethan Hawke), the king, is brutally murdered by his uncle (Claes Bang, The Burnt Orange Heresy) in front of him. He also kidnaps his mother. He runs for his life to survive. Years later, while raiding a village, he notices his father’s killer lives a happy, content life with his mother (Nicole Kidman). They have made a family together. From this moment on, he vows to save his mother, kill his uncle, and avenge his father. This is the creed that the adult Viking (Alexander Skarsgard, Passing) now lives by.
The Northman is an unbelievable third outing for Eggers. It is brutal, bloody, violent, and visceral, just as revenge thrillers should be. It is in the same category as the great film Gladiator. Eggers takes his love of folk horror and goes to the next level with it in this film. He discussed this in the documentary Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched: A History of Folk Horror. The film is based on the Gesta Danorum, a text about Danish history. It is the oldest recorded written testament of Estonia and Latvia. Eggers uses this as his basis for the story in The Northman, which is a terrific story that he adapted.
After Egger’s previous two films, he garnered a lot of attention from studio heads, so he got a nice ninety million dollar budget to make this film. Universal Pictures and Focus Features have signed on the dotted line. With this budget, he was able to assemble an all-star cast for his Viking epic. The film also includes a turn from Willem Dafoe (The Lighthouse) as a funny court jester in a smaller role. Bjork, the iconic Icelandic singer, has a small role as a “Seeress,” a woman who reminds our main character of his mission. And as a love interest to the main character, Anya Taylor-Joy (The Witch) plays a fellow kinswoman who gets turned into a slave. This cast is all stellar in this epic film. They go to the next level for Eggers’s vision.
One of the things that makes this film so good is its look. Various scenes of bloody battles and blazing fires are littered throughout the film. The backdrop of Iceland is shown in all its beautiful glory. This country is a perfect setting for this historical epic. It has stunning vistas of green mountains, char burnt grounds, and muddy towns that all fit together to make the world Eggers created for this film come to vivid life. This is one of the most beautiful films I’ve seen in recent memory. The cinematography by Jarin Blaschke is sure to be nominated for an Academy Award next year. This film is gorgeous to behold.
With Eggers’s love of the folk horror genre, he falls back on the production of other films. The epic feel of The Northman has a grunginess and griminess to it that fits the story and context of Eggers’s film. The little villages and various homes and churches look original and authentic. This whole world looks real. The weather also plays a part in making this film look real, cold, and dank. There were various scenes of snowy, windy weather and rainy, dreary weather that set the stage for how this film would look. And from what Taylor-Joy said in an interview, Eggers didn’t pull any punches with his actors. They were thrust into this cold bad weather head first. It wasn’t a fun experience for them.
With all the great technical aspects of this film, I couldn’t leave out the driving force: Alexander Skarsgard. He has been thrust into this role in his career by his lineage. His father, Stellan Skarsgard, and his brother, Bill Skarsgard, are all well-known actors in their own right. He gives every once of himself for this role. He goes further with his performance than he’s ever gone before because Eggers puts him through the wringer with this film. The weather and physical demands he has to go through in this role are incredible. He is sure to garner Academy Awards buzz for this career-making role of this revenge-seeking blood-soaked Viking.
The Northman is an epic film on the level of the greats like Braveheart or some of Cecil B. DeMille’s films. It takes this genre and blows it up to another level, creating an epic on crack. It has visceral moments of rising to Valhalla but also gritty, bloody scenes that are not for the faint of heart. The blood flows like rivers at various times during the film. The violence is a second nature that Eggers is proud to depict in this film and show the world. He has made an epic that stands on its own as a great film people will be talking about next year at the Academy Awards.
Dan Skip Allen
Sean Boelman Founder/EIC disappointment media