AWSM Note: This review was contributed by a friend of our organisation.
‘The Northman’ is the latest film by legendary Director Robert Eggers, responsible for both
instant classics ‘The Witch’ (2015), and ‘The Lighthouse’ (2019). With both of his previous
projects being relatively low budget atmospheric horror/thrillers ‘The Northman’ sees a
a fairly drastic change of course from his last two films focusing more on large scale
storytelling and big-budget spectacles.
The Northman’s story is based on William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, which in turn is based on
the story of Amleth, a medieval Scandinavian legend. Both are tales of revenge, an act of
all-encompassing revenge that ultimately destroys everything in its path. ‘The Northman’
tells the story of Prince Amleth (much like the Amleth in Scandinavian legend) whose father
king is murdered by his uncle Fjolnir. This sets Amleth on a quest for revenge to avenge his
father and save his captive mother. There is not much more to the story other than this,
however, where The Northman shines is in its delivery of this age-old trope of vengeance.
Eggers’s mixture of the authentic with the fantastical is a spectacle to behold, coupled with
enough bloody action to keep any gore fiend happy. Peppered with gorgeously cinematic
shots of Iceland The Northman is a true feast for the eyes. This beauty is further enforced by
its deep atmospheric quality brought about by Eggers’s immaculate attention to historical
detail. The film has a unique way of transporting the viewer to a world that feels unique,
real, and fleshed out but also dream-like and imaginative, much like his previous works.
However, on a conceptual level, The Northman is Eggers’s weakest work to date, not to say
that it reflects negatively at all on the product as a whole, the film is still gorgeous and
gripping, but it seems obvious that Eggers works best on small budget projects with intimate
stories. The sprawling epic that is The Northman somewhat undermines Eggers’s penchant
for small scale storytelling, as a result, fails to have the same psychological and emotional
impact which made The Lighthouse and The Witch such brilliant pieces of art.
In the end, The Northman is beautiful, dark, bloody, and exciting and it was a thrill to see
such attention to detail brought to the Viking era on a blockbuster budget. However, The
Northman fails to live up to Eggers’s previous works with his latest film focusing a bit more
on historical relevance than impactful storytelling and characters.