Alex Merchant’s review published on Letterboxd:
A blood-soaked, rage-fueled revenge tale more exciting that I ever could have hoped, The Northman is everything I look for in a movie. Jaw-dropping cinematography, a relentlessly interesting setting, and deft raw performances. Watching this film was a rousing cathartic experience for me that I won’t soon forget.
The premise is classic and simple. Amleth, a young Viking prince, sees his father murdered and his mother captured by his uncle and he vows to one day get revenge. As he reaches adulthood, he is still driven by his singular purpose and has become even more brutal and unfeeling than the harsh people around him. Amleth has long left his humanity behind him as he helps his Viking clan violently raid villages and cause traumatic destruction not unlike what he experienced in his youth.
The Northman does not shy away from portraying the nastier aspects of Viking culture- the unnecessary violence, utter misogyny, and selfish plunder. While Amleth is our protagonist, he’s no hero. This is a harsh movie and that tone only feels appropriate for such a people so famous for their violence.
As he’s been known to do, director Robert Eggers gets weird with it at times with depictions of the folkloric supernatural, but this movie is far less esoteric and slow burn than his first two features. I loved the way he put his greatly increased budget on the screen. The special effects throughout are truly stunning and the excellent staging of the killer action sequences is a sight to behold. There were several moments throughout this movie I was thinking to myself, “that shot was the coolest thing I’ve ever seen.” This is one film I’m glad I saw in Dolby because wow did it look and sound fantastic from beginning to end.
The Northman assembles an excellent cast, at the front of which is Alexander Skarsgård in a convincing performance of determined rage and physicality. Then you have Anya Taylor-Joy reuniting with Eggers for another great turn, this time as the mysterious and fierce Olga. This ensemble runs deep with legends like Ethan Hawke and Willem Dafoe taking on much smaller but still very memorable roles.
I can’t promise that everybody will like this as much as me. It’s very possible and even likely I was the most enamored with the film at my screening (but at least general reception seemed more positive than The Witch!) The Northman was simply right up my alley and sparked a very real, powerful enthusiasm inside of me that I haven’t felt in a while. It’s just so fantastic to see a breakout buzzy director make use of his new resources to craft something so remarkably visceral and of singular, awesome vision. For me watching The Northman felt like a ride straight to Valhalla and I can’t wait to see it again.