Review: The Northman (2022)

*Warning: minor spoilers ahead*

With throats ripped out, noses chopped off, and penises slapped around, The Northman is a wild ride from start to finish. The plot focuses on Prince Amleth (played by Alexander Skarsgård) and his mission to avenge his father’s death and save his mother from his uncle’s clutches. An action-packed viking epic; it was so gory I found it difficult to watch at times. Although I am particularly squeamish, do heed my warning: this film is not for the faint of heart.

I went to see The Northman at the Exeter Picturehouse, where I recently found that you can get cinema tickets for £4.99 if you are under 25. I am still unsure whether to feel pleased about this, or devastated that I only realised at the end of my final year at uni. Regardless, I’m not a gatekeeper, so I am sharing the good news with all of you.

I’ve been a fan of director Robert Eggers since The Lighthouse. An unconventional horror, The Lighthouse is the kind of film pretentious people like to bring up at parties so they can explain the symbolism and hidden meaning behind it. However, it is a clever and thought-provoking film, albeit strange. In The Northman, Eggers creates an eerie atmosphere reminiscent of his former films, established in the opening shot of a turbulent, grey ocean.

But The Northman is also very different to anything Eggers has done before. While The Lighthouse induces a sense of claustrophobia with the small, isolated setting, the two-man cast, and the box-shaped aspect ratio, The Northman is big in every sense of the word. It boasts a big cast, a big story, big battle scenes, and big men. I don’t think anyone has ever looked as huge as Alexander Skarsgård does in this movie. His muscles have muscles, as my friend astutely observed. Reviewers on Letterboxd are even calling the film Eggers’ magnum opus.

The scale of the film works both in its favour and against it. Publications such as The Week have commented on the indie-darling-director’s transition into big-budget Hollywood films, a move that I’m sure will horrify many fans. In some ways, I prefer the simplicity of The Lighthouse. Half an hour longer, The Northman’s run time did occasionally drag. However, the epic fight scene at the end — in which the naked opponents battle inside an active volcano — is fantastic. Anything less would have felt like an anti-climax, which speaks to the sheer magnitude of the film.

The cast all gave intriguing performances, and Skarsgård was particularly convincing. Watching him felt like watching actual footage of a feral viking, running rampant and howling at the moon. Anya Taylor-Joy was ethereal, as usual, and Nicole Kidman was appropriately unnerving.

*Warning: BIG spoilers ahead*

If there’s one thing Eggers loves, it’s a surreal sex or nudity centric scene. The man seems to be on a mission to make Willem Dafoe’s penis a memorable aspect of every film. But the scene dominating the conversation is the incestuous moment between Amleth and his mother, played by Kidman. Although Eggers often deals with disturbing depictions of masculinity, femininity, and desire, the scene was shocking, even for him. Yet, it works well as the film’s emotional climax, as it undoes everything Amleth thought he knew about his mother, and himself. It complicates what is otherwise a predictable revenge plot.

The Northman is brilliantly directed and well worth a watch. If you can stomach it, that is.

Daniella Clarke

Featured Image Source: Still via Youtube // THE NORTHMAN – Official Trailer – Only in Theaters April 22

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