Bored of identikit blockbusters and flatpack franchises which always seem to end with something smashing something else amid an ocean of CGI? Thank Odin, then, for Robert Eggers and his mad, brilliant, violent, hypnotic, trippy Viking opus. And thank the heroic people who gave him $80 million to make it.
A thrilling revenge movie with one foot in a to-the-last-detail recreation of 9th century Scandinavia and one in a supernatural realm of hulking zombie vikings, magic swords and Björk being a prophet in wheat hat, it’s Conan the Barbarian by way of Klimov and Tarkovsky. It’s artful and full of haunting, elemental visuals – for all the talk of studio notes, this feels like a work of singular vision – but it also gallops along at times, as it follows raging prince Amleth (Alexander Skarsgård, about the size of an Ikea) as he hunts down the uncle (Claes Bang, terrific) who killed his dad and made off with his mum.
The Northman feels Shakespearean (it draws on the same Norse material as ‘Hamlet’), especially when Nicole Kidman’s queen is on screen. She’s clearly having a blast with a character who is never entirely moored to the world she inhabits or any traditional gender role. It leaves Anya Taylor-Joy’s sorceress, Olga, as our sanctuary from all the male bloodletting. The battles are brutal and there are moments when everyone on screen seems to be avenging someone else. It’s all very pre-anger management.
Make it your destiny to see this blood-soaked odyssey along the edge of the world as soon as possible
The casting is immaculate – Willem Dafoe and Ethan Hawke round out an ensemble that fit perfectly in this world – and the language is as rich as you’d expect from the man who wrote The Lighthouse and The Witch. This time Eggers enlists Icelandic poet-novelist Sjón (Lamb) to help riff on the ancient sagas of his homeland: the intractability of destiny is the major theme here (that, and the lopping off of body parts). Make it your destiny to see this blood-soaked odyssey along the edge of the world as soon as possible.
In UK cinemas Apr 15 and US theaters Apr 22.