Strap yourself in for an intense ride (Picture: Focus Features)
Alexander Skarsgård leads a stellar cast in Robert Eggers’ latest, The Northman, which provides all the weirdness, gore, beauty and singularity that you would expect from this director’s take on a Viking tale of vengeance.
It’s an absolute Eggers equation, adding together expectations of his stylised and violent version of an historic epic with rabid commitment from his actors, which certainly equals a movie with undeniable power – whether it’s to everyone’s tastes or not.
On only his third feature-length film, following The Witch and The Lighthouse, it’s impressive that the writer and director already has a distinguishable-enough style that audiences can know what to expect and strap themselves in accordingly.
However, for every horror fan that thrills at the (literal) gut-spilling and decapitation, as well as repeatedly bizarre religious rituals around bonfires, there are others less enraptured by his bold vision, which does have a tendency towards indulgence at moments.
With young Viking prince Amleth (played ably by Oscar Novak before Skarsgård) at its heart, The Northman follows the youngster’s growth as he flees his home following the murder of his father King Aurvandil (Ethan Hawke) by his uncle, Fjölnir (Claes Bang).
Powered by his own personal motto to avenge (his father’s death), save (his mother, Queen Gudrún (Nicole Kidman)) and kill (his treacherous uncle), Amleth returns years later to carry out his plan.
Director Eggers doesn’t hold back on the gore or weirdness, as per (Picture: Aidan Monaghan/Focus Features)
The Northman’s great cast lives up to what you’d hope from such starry and suitably Scandinavian-heavy billing. Everyone has whole-heartedly embraced the intensity Eggers likes to draw out from his actors (sometimes it’s exhausting simply watching), even if it’s only little snippets of delightful bizarreness we’re treated to from Björk and Eggers returner Willem Dafoe.
Claes Bang is a worthy adversary to Skarsgård, with the irresistible suave charm he had as Dracula for the BBC in 2020 replaced by steely aggression, while Nicole Kidman has a meaty role in which to sink her teeth.
Let’s not dwell too much on the fact that she’s playing Skarsgård’s mother, with a real-life age gap of nine years, plus the added context of having played his wife in HBO’s Big Little Lies…
Claes Bang is the villain of the piece (Picture: Focus Features)
Ethan Hawke and Nicole Kidman give Eggers the intense energy he asks of actors (Picture: Aidan Monaghan/Focus Features)
Anya Taylor-Joy also returns to an Eggers’ role, after leading 2015’s The Witch, once again lending her ethereal beauty and delicate touch to the part of tough-as-nails slave Olga.
However, the film rests mainly, and comfortably, on Skarsgård’s massive shoulders. Dialling it up to what can only be described as beast mode for a fair chunk of the film, he has the physique, presence and (Swedish) pedigree for it, and we’ve seen him show off his brand of almost noble savagery before in spades in his international break-through role on vampire show True Blood.
Anya Taylor-Joy returns after leading Eggers’ debut The Witch (Picture: Aidan Monaghan/Focus Features)
Despite its pretty unrelentingly grim mood, there are a handfulof jokes in the film (Picture: Aidan Monaghan/Focus Features))
Although a more accessible film than The Lighthouse, sharing a similar ability with The Witch to ground itself in the history and faith of its setting, The Northman does lean heavily into its weird rituals and visions, alongside the dark violence of Viking gore, which is exactly where you’d expect to find Eggers.
Its pacing, which starts to sag, is also reinvigorated in the last quarter by a satisfying twist.
The Northman’s chuckles are few and far between due to its near-unrelenting grimness. although odd moments of light relief are peppered in, although consider yourself warned if you don’t think you’ll be in the mood for a man having his freshly chopped-off head placed up his a**e. Hey, welcome to Robert Eggers’ universe!
If it might not be a movie for everyone to fully enjoy, but plenty of its elements can be appreciated.
The Northman is released in UK cinemas on Friday April 15.