The Northman

The Northman 2022

Directed by Robert Eggers. Screenplay by Robert Eggers and Sjon.

I saw The Northman in its opening weekend at a fairly well attended screening at The State, and from the opening scenes (unlike my last cinema outing) you could’ve heard pin drop. This chaotic and extremely bloody film is loosely based on the saga of Amleth, (also the inspiration for Shakespeare’s Hamlet) which forms part of the ‘Gesta Danorum’ or ‘History of the Danes’ from the 12th century.

Here, Eggers has teamed with Icelandic writer Sjon, who also wrote the screenplay for the much lauded Lamb (2021). The result is a mesmerising fever dream of epic proportions. Featuring Alexander Skarsgård, Anya Taylor-Joy, Claes Bang, Nicole Kidman and Ethan Hawke, this boasts a great supporting cast, including Willem Dafoe, Ingvar Sigurdsson and the wonderful Björk. The production was one of many delayed by Covid, but I think in this case, it has worked in favour of The Northman, with the end result a very polished production.

There are many, MANY fight sequences and they’re excellently choreographed by C C Smiff and shot by cinematographer Jarin Blaschke, a constant collaborator on all Eggers’ features. The framing throughout is superb but one scene in particular has stayed with me, a beserker raid on a village that contains a lengthy tracking shot through a village. Filmed in one take, it is wonderfully balletic as well as incredibly bloody. All praise too for stunt coordinator Jòn Vidar Ambórsson and his team, who really made me wince and occasionally, gasp for breath! The original soundtrack by Robin Carolan and Sebastian Gainsborough is perfect – front and centre when required and unobtrusive for the remainder. Similarly, there’s been a lot of work poured into costuming and historical accuracy, right down to a valkyrie with dental adornments and a he-witch in women’s clothing – real practices in Iron Age Viking culture.

Having a much bigger budget for this third feature has also opened up new horizons (literally) for Eggers. After the intentionally stifling feel of the New England forest (and Thomasin’s tiny family cabin) in The Witch (2015) and the similarly claustrophobic feel of The Lighthouse (2019), the broad horizons and multiple locations of The Northman give an appropriate sweeping, epic feel to this saga of vengeance and love. It fleetingly draws a shade of grey over Amleth’s quest (a thread that could’ve been pulled a little more I feel) but it remains a top class epic revenge saga.

If like me, you’re a fan of Eggers’ brand of visceral dark horror (yes, it is a horror movie), I’m sure you’ll enjoy this and, like his previous films, I’m sure this will stand repeated rewatching. But be aware, it isn’t for the squeamish or faint hearted. The Northman is currently in wide release globally and I suggest seeing it on the biggest screen possible. Very highly recommended.

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