‘I will avenge you, Father, I will save you, Mother. I will kill you, Fjölnir.’
Imagine being Robert Eggers right now. Stunning audiences in 2105 with the captivating The Witch (and also introducing them to the incredible Anya Taylor-Joy), following up in 2019 with the near-indescribable The Lighthouse – we’re now here with an epic for the ages. A feast for the senses, Norse mythology has never looked this good on the big screen nor felt as vitally visceral.
A retelling of the story of Amleth, the direct inspiration of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Viking King Aurvandil (Ethan Hawke) returns from battle badly injured and determined to commence his son’s training to be a man and future King. But loving son Prince Amleth (Oscar Novak) instead has to witness his father’s murder at the hands of his Uncle Fjölnir (Claes Bang), who also enslaves grieving Queen Gudrún (Nicole Kidman) as his new wife. Amleth flees for his life, determined to get vengeance for himself and his family. Years pass, he’s now a strong and fierce warrior (Alexander Skarsgård) when the fates and Olga (Anya Taylor-Joy) suggest that it is finally time to wreak his revenge.
What follows is a cinematic marvel. Continuing his partnership with cinematographer Jarin Blaschke, the signature visual style with Eggers is present, correct and as brutally beautiful as we would expect. Each shot is a feast for the eyes – there’s something hauntingly captivating about every single frame. And there’s much to be haunted by here. This is a film that is as vicious and violent as you would hope for from a tale with these origins. It’s to point of near-ecstatic deliciousness that we bare witness to such primal and pulsating savagery.
The reason it is so compelling is the substance that comes with the ascetic. Skarsgård in particular is a tour-de-force, a hulking embodiment of unbridled obsession with fate & destiny. It feels wrong to describe his undeterred quest for retribution as a pleasure to watch yet, thanks to Eggers at the helm it genuinely is. Within the barbarity, there’s wonderful teasing out on the threads than bind and drive us – how humans are dammed to follow a path that is not of their own choosing.
If you’re looking for a bold and nihilistic tale, you’ve come to – quite literally – the perfect place.