‘The Northman’: Vikings, Revenge, Blood, and Guts at the Gates of Hel

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The Northman (CREDIT: Aidan Monaghan/Focus Features)

Starring: Alexander Skarsgård, Nicole Kidman, Anya Taylor-Joy, Claes Bang, Ethan Hawke, Bjӧrk, Willem Dafoe, Oscar Novak

Director: Robert Eggers

Running Time: 137 Minutes

Rating: R for Lots of Blood and a Fair Amount of Skin

Release Date: April 22, 2022 (Theaters)

If nothing else, Robert Eggers movies are experiences. Sometimes, in the case of The Witch, it’s an experience I very much want to be a part of. Other times, in the case of The Lighthouse, it’s like: hoo boy, this might be a little too much for me. His third feature, The Northman, lands somewhere in the middle. It’s his longest but also perhaps his most straightforward. That might have something to do with the fact that the main character is a legendary Scandinavian figure who served as the direct inspiration for Hamlet. I encountered that factoid after watching the movie, but it makes sense in retrospect, as the story beats are plenty familiar. Despite the hallucinogenic flourishes, this is your classic tale of revenge and bloody familial entanglements.

It’s Viking Times! 895 AD, specifically. Young Prince Amleth (Oscar Novak) doesn’t have a care in the world, but then his uncle Fjölnir (Claes Bang) kills his father (Ethan Hawke) and takes Amleth’s mother Gudrún (Nicole Kidman) as his own queen. If you’ve ever seen The Lion King, you know what’s coming, as we leap ahead several years, with our hero (now played by Alexander Skarsgård) returning with a girlfriend in tow (Anya Taylor-Joy as the witchy Olga of the Birch Forest) and ready to take back what’s his. Now, at this point, you may find yourself thinking, “Hey, didn’t Skarsgård and Kidman play husband and wife a few years ago?” To which I must let you know, The Northman does not flinch at the ickiest of its implications.

Basically, if you’ve ever been watching a Shakespeare production and wished that it was even bloodier, and a whole lot muddier, and also featured plenty of psychedelic freakouts, then The Northman is here for you! And if you also wanted a deadly mashup of lacrosse, handball, and rugby thrown in for good measure, then you can rest easy. I don’t want any beheadings in my own personal day-to-day, but I can approve of a few fictional decapitations serving as the cherries on top of a Robert Eggers sundae. It’s a healthy way to get the violent urges out of our systems.

The Northman is Recommended If You Like: Revenge served as cold as historically possible

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Fratricides/Avunculucides/Matricides/Nepoticides

‘The Lighthouse’ is a Terrifying Portrayal of Isolation That May Just Be Too Much to Bear

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CREDIT: A24

Starring: Robert Pattinson, Willem Dafoe

Director: Robert Eggers

Running Time: 110 Minutes

Rating: R for Sexual Content and Violence Covered in Mud and Seawater, and Uniquely Accented Profanity

Release Date: October 18, 2019 (Limited)

Very scary quite contrary. Ooey gooey muddy yucky.

Movies like The Lighthouse make me wonder if it should be standard practice to hand out programs to filmgoers as they enter the theater. While there is no shortage of assets in 2019 to consult to help with any cinematic confusion, there’s a big difference between visiting Wikipedia or Reddit afterwards and actually having a booklet in hand while watching. (It might be too dark to read during the actual show, but there’s something to be said for the security blanket quality of its mere presence.) Director Robert Eggers’ last film, The Witch, had the very helpful tone-setting subtitle “A New England Folktale,” which calibrated my filmgoing faculties exactly where they needed to be. Meanwhile, The Lighthouse, featuring Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe as a couple of lighthouse keepers struggling with isolation and their growing antagonism twoards each other, is a much more throw-you-over-the-edge-without-a-life-preserver affair.

That’s not to say that I need, or even want, my hand held throughout The Lighthouse. It’s fine, and probably better, that certain things remain a mystery. Like the mermaid that Pattinson gets it on with that’s probably just a vision, though it’s hard to tell for sure in this landscape. Also, why is that seagull so angry? These are discussions I’m happy to have after watching a sensorially pummeling movie like this one! But while watching, I’d prefer it if I wasn’t constantly asking myself, “Where am I?” If Eggers had just given us one little crumb, like a subtitle along the lines of, for example, “A Sea Shanty,” I think I would have been able to digest this one a little more properly.

But despite this major reservation, I cannot dismiss The Lighthouse entirely. I will always encourage visionary cinema, even if I’m not a fan of the particular vision. And this black-and-white freakout about the horrors of isolation, presented in a claustrophobic 4:3 boxy aspect ratio, certainly qualifies as a vision. So I’ll remain open-minded to re-evaluating this ish in the future, but for now it feels like a silly slosh through the mud and an overindulgent assault on our senses.

The Lighthouse is Recommended If You Like: You Were Never Really Here, Mandy, The Witch

Grade: 2.5 out of 5 Seagulls

This Is a Movie Review: The Witch

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the-witch-2016

The climax of The Witch is a lot like that of The Crucible, in which rampant paranoia fatally tears apart a New England colonial community. But in this case, there unequivocally is an actual witch. And it is perhaps even more tragic because the community is just a single nuclear family. With parent turning against child, and sibling targeting sibling, the witch almost feels superfluous. The extent of her powers suggests that she could wipe out the whole family in one fell swoop if she wanted to. However, there is also a hint that she must take advantage of familial betrayal to get herself into fighting shape. But perhaps the witch, like the audience watching her, loves a good horror film, and the 17th century equivalent of that is a tree-side view of the gradual dissolution of foolhardy settlers. In that sense her taste is beautifully freaky, with plenty of unforgettable moments (creepy twins relentlessly chanting about their prize goat, a raven pecking at a bloody breast, a cow’s udder squirting blood) proving to be fun for everyone!