Alexander Skarsgard and Nicole Kidman Go Vikings – The Hollywood Reporter
It’s been a while since we’ve had a gory, bloody battle orgy in which warriors clad in sackcloth and animal skins rush into the fray, brandishing swords and torches, shields, hatchets and flaming daggers, while screaming dialogue that mostly begins and ends with “RAAARRRGGGHHH!” There’s a lot of that in The man from the northa muscular fever dream that makes the bizarre homemade horror that put director Robert Eggers on the map – The witch and Lighthouse – look like Disney movies. To use a term taken from a ritual fireside song where Alexander Skarsgård’s Amleth blurs the line between man and beast, he is the untamed “berserker” of Norse legends.
Going from his previous low-budget instant cult films to this full-scale $90 million bloodbath for Focus Features, Eggers is nothing short of fearless. Again benefiting from the painstaking work of set designer Craig Lathrop and costume designer Linda Muir, the director conjures up an immersive and evocative atmosphere that catapults us to the turn of the 10th century, a dark and viscerally violent past in which human savagery and the supernatural coexist.
The man from the north
Fiercely elemental, energized and unbalanced.
The inadvertently campy dialogue in the screenplay that Eggers co-wrote with Icelandic novelist and poet Sjón (Lamb) quite often provokes giggles, and the Scandinavian accents that come out of the mouths of actors like Nicole Kidman, Anya Taylor-Joy and Ethan Hawke are likely to provoke a Gucci House traumatic relapse. It’s an audaciously bonkers film that keeps threatening to rush into some kind of weird no-man’s-land where The iron Throne meets Monty Python and the Holy Grail. And that’s even before Björk arrives as a clairvoyant witch, dressed in wicker, shells and pearls.
But The man from the northThe marauding energy of you is held hostage and Prince Amleth is the hunky, heroically vengeful killing machine with a heart that Skarsgård was born to play. Longtime fans will appreciate that it taps into the cultural roots of its former true blood vampire, Eric Northman too.
The screenplay draws on both Norse myths and Icelandic family sagas, drawing on the Norse legend of Amleth that inspired Shakespeare. Hamlet. The prologue takes place in the fictional North Atlantic island kingdom of Hrafnsey, where King Aurvandil (Hawke), aka War-Raven, arrives home with great fanfare. The gash in his guts inflicted by an enemy in battle prompts him to groom 10-year-old Amleth (Oscar Novak) to take the throne, despite Queen Gudrún’s (Kidman) objections that their son is only a boy. Amleth’s transcendental initiation involves crawling on all fours underground with his father, howling like wolves. Also burp, fart, levitate, and access disturbing visions via Aurvandil’s wound.
No sooner has Amleth sworn to avenge his father should he die by an enemy’s sword than the boy witnesses his murder at the hands of his uncle Fjölnir (Claes Bang), whose vivacity with the Queen was once joked about by court shamanic fool Heimir (Willem Dafoe).
“Bring me the boy’s head,” Fjölnir orders his men, accompanied by the screaming strings and beating drums of Robin Carolan and Sebastian Gainsborough’s relentless score. But Amleth, after seeing the slaughter of the male villagers, the abduction of the women, and the queen slung over Fjölnir’s shoulder and carried away screaming, escapes by boat. He swears to save his mother, kill his uncle and avenge his father.
A few decades later, Amleth has transformed into a muscular man harnessing the spirit of both a wolf and a bear. He’s rage personified, roaming the Land of the Rus with a pack of Viking raiders who apparently never encountered a Slavic settlement they couldn’t plunder. But Björk’s mother-earth seer recognizes him as the lost prince and reminds him of his fate. Hearing that Fjölnir has been driven from the kingdom he usurped and fled to an isolated agrarian community in Iceland, Amleth boards a slave ship bound there to provide labor.
Anya Taylor-Joy plays another passenger who experiences a good affair when she sees one. “I am Olga from the birch forest,” she says by way of introduction, adding that if he has the strength to break the bones of men, she has the cunning to break their spirits. Both are taken to Fjölnir’s farm, where Olga gradually gains Amleth’s trust and he reveals his plan to murder his uncle and save his mother, who he believes only feigns love for her captor for good. of their young son (Elliott Rose).
Eggers’ films shared a fascination with the magical properties of animals – a goat in The witch (I love you, Black Phillip), a cursed seagull in Lighthouse. The occult fauna this time are Cubs and Crows, with the former leading Amleth to find a massive undead sword, known as The Night Blade; the latter taking care of his beak when he is tortured and tied up at the end of the game.
The narrative picks up speed as Amleth nears his goal, sowing carnage among his uncle’s men and instilling fear of a “soggy spirit” among them. The plot gets more frantic but remains lucid, even if there are one or two arc moments that almost made me howl like a wolf.
Gudrún’s reunion with the son she thought was long dead should have been a moment of great drama. But it’s hard not to laugh when Kidman, sporting Daryl Hannah’s old curly hair from Splash and sporting a Fatale Natasha accent, greets a mighty silver blade at her throat with “Your sword is long,” before engaging in incestuous flirtation. When Fjölnir suffers a severe loss and cries out, “What evil is this?!” Gudrún shoots him a wide-eyed death stare and snaps, “Behave!” like she was a Nordic Austin Powers.
The romance between Amleth and Olga also has time to blossom during all of this, with post-coital respite in the woods as soon as John Boorman comes out. Excalibur. There’s also an interlude on a flying horse ridden by a fiery-eyed Valkyrie (Ineta Sliuzaite). But even as Amleth secures the continuity of his lineage, his deadly rendezvous with Uncle Fjölnir at the “gates of hell” remains.
It would be the mouth of an active volcano, where they fight naked, like any self-respecting medieval warrior would, though their digitally erased penises make them look absentmindedly like Ken dolls. I could be wrong, but their smooth groins in the lava light look more like the result of studio interference than the modesty of actors or a director so determined to present a world suspended between life and legend in all its gritty glory.
The film is shot by regular Eggers DP Jarin Blaschke with choppy propulsion and a textured feel to the dramatic landscapes, whipped by rain, wind, snow and ice, or blanketed in mud and ash. . The choreography of the fight scenes – both directing and filming, in long, uninterrupted takes – is stunning. The dense sound design is also totally enveloping, with Viking-era instruments like the birch horn and bone flute heard alongside the thunderous elements and mayhem of combat.
The man from the north is certainly a lot of the film, and while its hysterical intensity sometimes veers into overworked silliness, it is both tireless and uplifting in its portrayal of a culture governed by cycles of violence. The cohesion of Eggers’ vision commands admiration, as does the commitment of its employees, in front of and behind the camera.
Skarsgård, who has been working for more than a decade to develop a film project rooted in his childhood love for Viking myth and lore, has never been so fierce or so physically imposing. Taylor-Joy, who made her debut in The witch, is seductive as Olga weaves baskets and plots havoc. (His parents from that previous film, Kate Dickie and Ralph Ineson, also make appearances.) Kidman is a hoot, juggling fire and ice in a pleasantly over-the-top turn. And if someone doesn’t soon cast Bang as a nemesis of Bond or some other suitably bred evildoer, then Hollywood just isn’t paying attention.
Whether you buy into Eggers’ insane epic, get high on its bloody sorcery, or roll your eyes at its excesses, the film makes you appreciate how rarely we see a big, loud, brawling spectacle these days. which is not based on the comic-book of superheroes and villains but in a culturally specific story. In other words, a bold work of imagination, not another offshoot of a familiar IP. That alone deserves respect.