The inimitable Robert Eggers (“The Witch”) is back, and he directs “The Northman” like it is a folk horror film. This is a fast paced and frenetic revenge tale full of supernatural imagery. There are white eyes, formidable crows and witchy trees.
The story is simple. Aurvandill (Ethan Hawke) is King and he gets murdered by Fjölnir (Claes Bang). Amleth, his son (Alexander Skaarsgard) vows revenge. The suspense is in watching Amleth bide his time and mediating between the blight of supernatural forces.
Willem Dafoe is here again in an Eggers film as an eerie court jester. All is dark and gloomy and the people of the villages seem maddened by an angry fever, but this is Eggers’ realm in the time of the Vikings, when just saying your name is an announcement of anger and rage.
There is plenty of weirdness afoot. Animals that seem about to talk, frightful skulls and strange beings are abundant.
The combat becomes a Grand Guignol feast with human sacrifices and sexual motions with cadavers. While you might not be sure what it all means, no one does creepy quite like Eggers whose trademark feels one-part scare, the other black humor.
There is also something of Shakespeare. Nicole Kidman as a queen feels like Lady Macbeth.
While even the overall look of the film seems to quote Joel Coen’s “The Tragedy of Macbeth” with its plentiful helping of crows, it is still an Eggers film. His calling cards of hovering fog banks and sentient animals are here in full.
The roars, though comical at times, balance the dizzying battle scenes that are visceral and gory. The most haunting element of the film is that everyone seems insane, driven by fevers be they religious or otherwise.
While “The Northman” might not be as unique or as surprising as Eggers’ “The Witch,” its gloom and feverish Gothic imagery is highly compelling and the macabre unsentimental mayhem puts us deeply in Norse territory, with all of its cacophony, its confusion and its closeness to nature.
Write Ian at firstname.lastname@example.org