If it weren’t for the fact that Ghostface and Batman made an appearance in 2022, The Northman would have my highest expectations. In fact, the expectations it had already could rival any other most anticipated film of any other year. Robert Eggers hasn’t put a wrong foot forward in my opinion, being introduced to his work through his two horror films The Witch and The Lighthouse, it was clear to me that we were witnessing the birth of a director with a unique vision. Building amazing horror on a small budget, The Northman has a budget several times that so from a financial standpoint, the pressure is on Eggers. It’s too early to tell at the time of writing if The Northman is on track to a being a box office success, but Eggers can find comfort in the fact that The Northman is unquestionably his greatest creation.
A strive towards historical accuracy that audiences request from any period piece, and often the most creative directors will take measures in the filmmaking process to achieve this. However, Eggers, having a background in production design before directing, takes this demand fulfilment to the extreme. In his film The Witch, production designers had to create the set of the farm using only practices found from the 1600s. The Northman carries on this tradition with the most historically accurate production and costume design seen in a Viking film. There are no horned helmets or drakeships, just brutal honesty from costumes and sets that look larger than life. You could argue that Production and Costume designers Craig Lathrop and Linda Muir outshine Eggers here for bringing the violent Viking era with all the glory worthy of Valhalla.
As much as this is a passion project for Eggers, Alexander Skarsgård is just as passionate about telling this Viking epic, which can be seen through a dedicated performance. Skarsgård plays Amleth, the son of the slain King Aurvandill War-Raven (Ethan Hawke) by his brother and Amleth’s uncle Fjölnir (Claes Bang) who is on a journey of vengeance to kill his brother-slaying uncle. Skarsgård’s performance can only be described as disturbingly animalistic. This is a wolf in a man’s body, it is aggressive and downright scary how much testosterone must have filled his body during violent scenes. Anya Taylor-Joy also gives an impressive performance. She plays Olga of the Birch Forest, a villager whose village was pillaged by Amleth’s berserker horde as previously mentioned, she meets Amleth as a slave and assists him in his pledge of vengeance. She is a character who greatly believes in fate and that’s what draws her to Amleth, someone who has their own destiny and the chance that their fates could intertwine.
You can also check off The Northman sounding and looking great too. The film knows when to travel down the road of traditional and/or experimental filmmaking. Depending on what flavour you like your films, you are going to visually gravitate to one or the other, but that doesn’t mean that one is superior to the other, they just offer different satisfaction. There are so many scenes that offer this satisfaction, so I’ll narrow it down to one example of both. The first is a very clean one take of Amleth and other berserkers raiding a village which is just as brutal as it is violent. The more experimental side can be found at its best during a small scene of a Valkyrie riding to the gates of Valhalla, accompanied by an unsettling score. Speaking of the film’s score, first-time composers Robin Carolan and Sebastian Gainsborough have created a score that makes them feel like they’ve been composing for decades. The composers originally set out to make the score feel uncomfortable to mirror the amount of brutality The Northman contained which they absolutely did with a combination of bold instruments, as well as the occasional throat singing.
One of the requirements I have to do when seeing a film that is my general cup of tea, I have to bring myself back down to earth and look at it through another’s eyes. Once I did that, I could see why not everyone would be too satisfied with the kind of viewing experience Eggers offers. Going back to the requirement of historical accuracy, there are some that could have been cut because they do disrupt the unsettling tone. For instance, a young Amleth and King Aurvandill meet with Heimir (Willem Dafoe) for an unsettling ceremony where the king and young prince act like dogs. Which would be loyal to the overall feel, if it hadn’t also included burping and farting. Eggers could have left that detail out
Nevertheless, The Northman is Robert Eggers’ boldest film yet. The passion and care for the project resonate off the screen and are reflected in every filmmaking element. This is one of those films that reminds people of the artistry cinema has to offer and is one of the most testosterone packed films in the last few years. The story of Prince Amleth (which inspired the story of Hamlet if that wasn’t already clear) and his pledge of vengeance is definitely going to stay rent-free in my head for many, many years and it makes me wonder if Robert Eggers is the new number 1 contender for most visionary director.
Final Result: 10/10 – Masterpiece
Have you seen The Northman? What did you think? Please let me know your thoughts and opinions in the comments below.
Next Time: The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent