The Northman is a film that’s right up my alley. From the setting to the buckets of blood spilled over the 2+ hour runtime, it’s a violent, visceral, and engrossing voyage. And I was hooked for every minute of it. It also continues to mark Robert Eggers as a director to watch. Additionally, fans of his work on The Witch and The Lighthouse are probably purchasing their tickets as we speak. But what makes this film worth a watch? Here are three reasons why you should watch The Northman.
Eggers has worked with some of Hollywood’s most prolific actors, including Anya-Taylor Joy and Willem Dafoe. The Northman boasts what may be his most impressive cast yet including those two. The narrative focuses on Prince Amleth (Alexander Skarsgard), who seeks vengeance against his uncle Fjölnir (Claes Bang) for murdering his father Aurvandill (Ethan Hawke) and kidnapping his mother Gudrún (Nicole Kidman). Along the way, Amneth encounters the witch Olga (Joy), and the two form a partnership that quickly grows romantic.
Much of the cast has previously starred in genre fare. Skarsgard is best known for his role in HBO’s True Blood, while Hawke is playing Arthur Harrow in Moon Knight and Bang portrayed Dracula in the BBC’s adaptation of Bram Stoker’s novel. And as mentioned before, both Joy and Dafoe have had roles in Eggers’ previous films and show up here – Dafoe shines in a brief role as Heimir the Fool, who despite his name is responsible for sending Amleth on the path to manhood. Skarsgard himself carries the film on his extremely ripped shoulders. He runs through a gauntlet of emotions, from fury to sorrow to passion. And his chemistry with Joy is electric.
The Fight Scenes
Another reason to watch The Northman? Well, the film has been described as “Arthouse Conan The Barbarian” and that’s not far off, as the fight scenes in this film are extremely grisly. Heads are hacked off, warriors are impaled, and literal blood and guts fly across the screen. One warrior even has his nose bitten off in a particularly gruesome scene. However, the end fight is truly amazing – I don’t want to spoil what happens, but it’s definitely worth the price of admission.
What really makes the fight scenes stand out is how Eggers and his go-to cinematographer Jarin Blaschke stage them. A fight in a tomb features a shining beam of moonlight, which bathes a brutal fight scene in unusually soft lighting. Another scene features snow covering a forest, which serves as prelude to slaughter. This movie may be brutal, but it’s also surprisingly beautiful – and shows that Eggers made good use of the $90 million budget.
The Use of Norse Mythology
With a narrative that takes place in the time of Vikings, and a screenplay that was co-written by Icelandic poet Sjón, it’s only natural that Norse myth plays a role in The Northman. Yggdrasil, the Tree of Life, is often referred to and even features in a dream sequence as a glowing tree comprised entirely of light, with bodies hanging from its branches. Another dream sequence features a Valkyrie riding through the sky, her face contorted in a roar of primal fury. Not only does the use of Norse myth play into the setting, but it also continues a trend of surreal imagery that’s permeated all of Eggers’ films.
These are just a few of the reasons why you should watch The Northman. it hits that sweet spot between “arthouse cinema” and “adrenaline-pumping revenge film”, and like Everything Everywhere All At Once proves that indie features can appeal to mainstream audiences. The Northman also marks a trio of new releases including The Bad Guys and The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent, which proves that there is a wealth of options in the theaters besides superheroes and remakes.
The Northman is now playing in theaters nationwide.
Collier “CJ” Jennings is a freelance reporter and film critic living in Seattle. He uses his love of comics and film/TV to craft reviews and essays on genre projects. He is also a host on Into the Spider-Cast.