"The Northman" Is A Gory, Beautiful, Cinematic Experience From The Mind Of Robert Eggers, Director Of "The Lighthouse" And "The Witch"

    Get ready for "Viking Hamlet."

    Well, folks, it's official. Robert Eggers — who you'll probably know best for his filmsThe Witch and The Lighthouse is 3-for-3. Eggers' latest film, The Northman, is another beautiful, eerie, and truly cinematic experience, and I guarantee people will be talking about it A LOT in the days to come.

    Alexander Skarsgård standing outside holding weapons in a scene from The Northman

    So, The Northman tells the story of a young Viking prince who seeks revenge for his father's murder. And the historical epic boasts a seriously packed cast, with Alexander Skarsgård, Nicole Kidman, Claes Bang, Anya Taylor-Joy, Ethan Hawke, Willem Dafoe, and iconic Icelandic musician Björk in her first "out of filmmaking retirement" role.

    Note: Mild spoilers ahead.

    Off the bat, you should know that The Northman is basically Hamlet (or The Lion King, if you're more of a Disney stan). The lead character's name, after all, is Amleth*, and there's even a scene where he literally talks to the court jester's skull. So, if you're familiar with the famous Shakespeare play at all, you can probably guess the premise of the film: A king is killed by his brother, and the king's son seeks revenge...drama ensues.

    In fact, it was kind of serendipitous that Eggers ended up making what he refers to as "Viking Hamlet." He told IGN:

    "Basically, Alexander Skarsgård and I had lunch, and he said he'd been wanting to make a Viking movie and was developing Viking movies for some time, trying to get something to happen. And I said I had an idea for a Viking movie. I didn't really have an idea for a Viking movie, I had an ending and I knew I wanted it to be a revenge movie. And then I thought, well, Hamlet is a great revenge story. And then, all of a sudden, I realized, oh my goodness, Shakespeare was inspired by Saxo Grammaticus, and the story is an Old Norse story. And so, that led to me writing a treatment based on that. And very quickly, two years later, we were going into production."

    Anyway, Shakespearean roots aside, let's talk about The Northman, because it is a gritty, gory, and gorgeous ride.

    A Viking on horseback

    Set in 10th century Iceland, The Northman opens with the tragic beginnings of young Prince Amleth (Alexander Skarsgård), who, for a short period, is living the good life.

    One day, his beloved father, King Aurvandil (Ethan Hawke), returns home from war, badly wounded. With death knocking at the door, Aurvandil performs something of a creepy, animalistic, royal ritual with Amleth and explains how the "Tree of Kings" lives within their bloodline. It's kind of a freaky scene, but there are some cool visuals — specifically, the Tree of Kings — that'll have you thinking, "WOW."

    After the ceremony, Aurvandil is murdered in front of Prince Amleth by his uncle, Fjölnir (Claes Bang). Amleth flees, but not before seeing Fjölnir kidnap his mother, Queen Gudrún (Nicole Kidman).

    As Amleth rows away to safety, he channels some serious Arya Stark energy and chants to himself, "I will avenge you father, I will save you mother, I will kill you Fjölnir."

    Twenty years pass and we now meet Amleth as a grown man, who is incredibly jacked and does things like catch spears midflight and throw them back at his enemies. (Let's just say I was like 👀👀👀👀).

    Hardened by time and rage, Amleth now raids villages through Eastern Europe with a band of Viking berserkers.

    After a raid, Amleth has a run-in with a mystical seeress (Björk) who reminds him of his fate and original mission. With the help of a woman named Olga (Anya Taylor-Joy), who has a seemingly magical connection to the spiritual world and nature, Amleth returns home to seek his revenge.

    Björk wearing a headdress as the mystical seeress

    Now, I won't get into the rest of the plot — really, you just need to go and see how it all plays out yourself — but I can tell you it's 1,000% worth watching in a theater to do it justice. The film is beautiful, completely engrossing, and will make you want to book a trip to Iceland, like, immediately.

    Three-time collaborator and cinematographer Jarin Blaschke keeps upping the ante with each of Eggers' films, and The Northman is maybe his best work yet. There's one shot that transitions so seamlessly from the shore to a Viking boat that I'm still scratching my head, days later, trying to work out how they did it.

    And if you're into visually stunning and supernatural shit, you can officially tick off that box. From spectacular Valkyries to naked sword fighting inside a volcano, The Northman is definitely a feast for the eyes. Oh, and for good measure, there's even a giant Viking zombie that, honestly, felt like something straight out of a horror film.

    As for the acting, it really feels like Skarsgård was born to play this role, and he brings an intensity to Amleth that will have your eyes popping out of your head. (Admittedly, I also couldn't stop thinking about the irony of him having played ~sexy~ Viking vampire Eric Northman in True Blood.)

    Kidman, meanwhile, is A+++ as always. And it's kind of a hoot to see her paired on screen again with Big Little Lies costar Skarsgård. He joked, “Once again we're playing a dysfunctional, violent couple in The Northman. This time we're mother and son, but the relationship is still a nightmare. We agreed that the next time we worked together, we would find a sweet romantic comedy."

    Nicole Kidman in The Northman

    Anya Taylor-Joy (who famously got her break in Eggers' first film, The Witch) feels a little underutilized as Olga. However, she has such an ethereal presence about her that it's clear why she was cast in the role. And, hey, I'm all for directors and actors collaborating on multiple projects. (Shoutout to Willem Dafoe as jester Heimir as well!)

    Anya on horseback

    Although his part is small, you can really feel Ethan Hawke LOVING playing the part of King Aurvandil. Hawke played Hamlet on film back in a ~modern~ 2000 adaptation, and he's also acted in stage adaptations of Macbeth and Henry IV. So, yeah, he's down with the whole Shakespeare thing.

    And Danish actor Claes Bang as uncle Fjölnir is something of a dark horse in this film. If you were one of the many fans of the 2020 Dracula BBC miniseries, you won't be surprised at how good he is. Bang brings a similar enigmatic charisma and darkness to this role.

    Overall, The Northman reminds me a lot of the popular historical epic films of the '90s, but made with a more modern, gory lens. It's been a long time since I've seen something of this quality and scale in that genre, and frankly, it makes me want more like it. It's beautifully shot, well-crafted, and the performances all-around were top of the line. There is A LOT of gore — so, if you're not down with blood and guts, that's something to consider — but, overall, 10/10 would recommend checking out The Northman.

    The Northman opens in theaters on April 22, 2022, and you can check out the trailer here:

    View this video on YouTube

    Focus Features / Via youtube.com

    Looking for more unique things to watch? Check out some of my other recent release recommendations:

    Everything Everywhere All at Once