“The Northman,” directed and co-written by Robert Eggers, is the latest installment of Viking-themed entertainment to ride the wave of period enthusiasts that began with History Channel’s series “Vikings” (2012 TV series). And for those who loved that series, “The Northman” is every bit as nuanced and thought-provoking as its television predecessor. (For the best review of History Channel’s Vikings, I highly recommend checking out Dr. Jackson Crawford’s perfect reaction video featured on his YouTube channel.) But unlike the “Vikings” TV series, “The Northman” was very well acted and the attention to wardrobe and set detail was immaculate. The only thing it was missing was a good plot. It could have also benefited from good direction and a decent script. But if gory murders and ritualized belching and farting are your kind of cinema, you’ll really enjoy Eggers’ latest contribution to the emerging Viking exploitation movie genre. (If you’re not familiar with this new genre, it has the same sophistication and cultural sensitivity of the exploitation films from the 1970s, but with more decapitations and less nudity.)
Speaking of cultural sensitivity, “The Northman’s” creators seem to have made a noble effort to break language barriers as the script was mostly screaming, with very few lines thrown in. Fortunately, the story and dialogue were so basic (if not completely clichéd) that you could follow the film with ease even if you don’t speak English. In fact, I would go so far as to say you don’t even have to watch the entire movie to predict what’s going to happen and how it all ends. It’s truly that accessible to a global audience.
The real downside to the movie, apart from the plot, script, direction, and cinematography, was the duration. For such a simple story, it’s something of a marvel that it took so long to tell. But don’t worry, Eggers doesn’t belabor any of the boring characteristics of most period films like character development. Instead, he mostly sticks to screaming and killing with the odd bit of flatulence thrown in to ground viewers in the sanctimony of ancient Norse heathen rituals.
All in all, “The Northman” really gives pedestrian “Viking” fans what they want – so much so that one might even think that the film was written and directed by a computer algorithm scraping data from all the Google searches made by the neckbeard gamers out there. (You know the type. They’re the ones buying up all the mass-manufactured Thor’s hammer pendants on Amazon to wear as they LARP the “Norse pagan” religion.)
And to the delight of more serious reenactors and historians, the “The Northman’s” costume design has been hailed as impressively accurate. Apart from one or two machined hems and co-star Nicole Kidman’s plastic surgery, Linda Muir has truly (and I mean this part sincerely) raised the standard for depictions of the Norse Iron Age.
Still, in spite of great costumes and a good cast, this Midgardian can’t say Eggers’ trite Viking-themed slasher movie was worth the ticket price. Personally, I wish I’d waited for it to come out on a streaming service. It’s the perfect movie to put on in the background during your next D&D after party. But for more serious movie-goers and those who like period dramas hinging on spiritual themes to be a bit more, well, spiritual, you might want to pass on this one altogether.
This heathen cinephile thinks “The Northman” should have been named after its leading character “Amleth,” which translated means something like “dull” or “stupid.”
“The Northman” premieres in US theaters on April 22.