The Northman

The Northman ★★★

Dang it's been awhile since I've felt this ambivalent about a film, but it's safe to say this is a crashing disappointment given my (admittedly) sky-high expectations and general Robert Eggers fandom. The period detail is the (unsurprising) standout, with particular plaudits to the Viking warriors' battle rattle—which has the gleam and heft of actual weapons of war—and the jawdropping location work in Iceland. Eggers also composes some truly arresting 'Valhalla' sequences, which put Zach Snyder's aspirations of mythmaking grandeur to shame. 

The bloody violence, too, feels real, and therein lies much of my mixed feelings. Eggers camera will sometimes gaze unflinchingly at dismembered bodies, and certainly doesn't elide the morally reprehensible actions of his protagonist, but he'll often cut away at key moments. It's as if he wants to underscore the brutality of the era without glorifying it, before bowing to a (literally) visceral setpiece. This has the effect of diluting both the impact of the carnage—which perhaps we're meant to meditate on and lament?—and whatever pulpy thrills we might otherwise long for in a story about, well, Viking pillage and revenge. Pick a side my guy! 

More troublingly, from a viewer standpoint, is the torpid pacing and turgid screenplay. Eggers dialogue has always had an antiquated and elevated register that can have a distancing effect, but here some of the exchanges approach the cringiest of Fantasy Epic line readings, stilted and quite often unintentionally funny. I found myself frequently wishing this was a silent film, given the sheer multitude of overwrought exchanges.

I don't know, perhaps I'll view this in a more flattering light on a rewatch. There is a bewitching spell still echoing between my ears, and I do love that a studio was willing to bankroll a visionary project that is so obviously going to bomb at the Box Office. But there's definitely the bones of a much superior film in here. Robert for your next film,  I beseech you, when it comes to esoteric indulgence —Kill your Darlings.

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