The Northman Is a Viking Masterpiece

Coming into 2022, The Northman was one of my most anticipated movies of the year. It was directed and co-written by Robert Eggers, the man behind The Witch and The Lighthouse, so like many other horror fans, I had high hopes that this film would be just as good as Eggers’s previous work. And after finally getting a chance to watch it, I’m happy to say that we were totally right.

The Northman stars Alexander Skarsgård, Nicole Kidman, Claes Bang, Anya Taylor-Joy, Gustav Lindh, Ethan Hawke, Björk, and Willem Dafoe, and it’s a Viking revenge epic about a prince named Amleth who goes on a quest to avenge his father’s murder. The movie begins when Amleth is just a boy, and after he sees his father die, the story jumps ahead to his adult years. By that point, he’s spent his entire life preparing himself for this one task and he goes to some pretty extreme lengths to see it through.

As we’ve come to expect from Robert Eggers, one of this movie’s biggest strengths is its convincing period setting. I wish I could say it’s an authentic period setting, but I just don’t know anywhere near enough about Viking culture to make that assessment. For all I know, everything about The Northman could be a bunch of historical hogwash (although I highly, highly doubt it), so the most I can say is that this story convincingly captures the look and feel of another world.

It grabs hold of you and transports you to a strange time and place where the people dress, act, and talk very differently, so even though I don’t know much about this culture, I was 100% sure I wasn’t in 21st-century America anymore. It’s almost surreal, and if I didn’t know any better, I would’ve thought that the cast and crew actually went back in time and filmed real Vikings going about their daily lives. It’s that good.

A man with snow falling

On top of that, The Northman also features a whole bunch of excellent performances. If you read through the cast, you’ll see some big names, and they’re all just as good as you’d expect. But above all, I have to give special mention to Alexander Skarsgård, who plays Amleth. He absolutely nails everything his character says and does, so I completely bought into him from the very first moment I saw him on screen.

In particular, when Amleth goes to town on people, Skarsgård imbues the role with a mesmerizing physicality. He somehow manages to combine the hulking nonchalance of a post-Jason Lives Jason Vorhees with the brutal efficiency of a Stone Cold Steve Austin running to the ring and knocking out whoever stands in his way—and it’s awesome. You can tell just from the way he walks that Amleth is not someone you want to mess with, and when he gets into fights, he proves you right.

Surprisingly though, The Northman doesn’t have quite as many fight scenes as I was expecting. Maybe the early reviews gave me unreasonably high expectations, but the film is actually not nearly as violent as I thought it would be. Sure, it has its moments of utter brutality, and when those moments come, they hit hard enough that they’re completely satisfying, but it doesn’t have quite as many of them as I thought it would.

What this movie does have, though, is some very pleasantly surprising horror undertones. I went into it expecting a violent and bloody action/drama, but what I got was so much more than that. For example, there’s a cloud of magic and mysticism that hovers over the entire story, so it’s not just a typical revenge film. It has a few supernatural elements too, and when they come to the fore, they make for some genuinely creepy scenes. Along similar lines, there’s also a part of the movie where it takes on a bit of a slasher vibe, and throughout that entire section, you very much feel like you’re watching a horror film.

A crazy Viking seer

All that being said, I do have to acknowledge that The Northman isn’t perfect. As much as I loved it, it does have some noticeable flaws, and two in particular really stood out to me. First, it drags just the slightest bit in the second half. The first half is absolutely riveting, and it runs on all cylinders the entire time. But once the second half hits, the story slows down a little, and it takes some time before it returns to the heights of awesomeness that it reached before.

Secondly, and more importantly, Anya Taylor-Joy’s character is way too underdeveloped. She’s just Amleth’s love interest, and she doesn’t really function as anything more than that. She only says and does what the plot needs her to say and do, so she often feels more like a plot device than a real person.

You never truly get to know her, and to be honest, I don’t think Amleth does either. Their romance moves at a very typical Hollywood pace (in other words, way too fast), and I didn’t completely buy it. It just felt way too formulaic, so I really wish the film had developed the character and her relationship with Amleth at least a little bit more.

In the grand scheme of things, though, those are relatively minor complaints. The Northman gets far more right than it gets wrong, so on the whole, I’m happy to say that I absolutely loved this movie. Its convincing period setting, fantastic performances, and cool horror elements (including some very brutal violence) are more than enough to outweigh its pesky little flaws, so if you’re itching for a night out at the movies, I highly recommend that you go see this one.

The Northman is playing in theaters right now.

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Written by JP Nunez

JP Nunez is a lifelong horror fan. From a very early age, he learned to love monsters, ghosts, and all things spooky, and it's still his favorite genre today.

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