Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

The Northman (2022)

© Universal Pictures, Regency Enterprises and Perfect World Pictures

The Northman  – Film Review

Cast: Alexander Skarsgård, Nicole Kidman, Claes Bang, Anya Taylor-Joy, Ethan Hawke, Björk, Willem Dafoe

Director: Robert Eggers

Synopsis: A Viking Prince swears brutal revenge after witnessing his father’s death at the hands of his traitorous uncle…

Review: Over the last few years, there have been several up-and-coming directors who have made a significant impact with their careers, establishing their reputations as sought after talent, with every film they make becoming event-worthy. One such director would be Robert Eggers. His first two films, The Witch and The Lighthouse, with a combined budget of $15million, became indie darlings that were both released to critical acclaim. With that success to his name, it has given Eggers the platform to go all out, backed by a studio’s considerably larger budget (between $70 and 90 million), and make his biggest and most visually striking film to date.

Prince Amleth is a happy young Viking boy living with his father King Aurvandill (Ethan Hawke) and his mother, Queen Gudrún (Nicole Kidman). Aurvandill is aware that the time will come for Amleth to one day assume the responsibilities of King in his stead. However, before Aurvandill can properly prepare him for his role as King, Auravandill is betrayed and murdered by his brother Fjölnir (Claes Bang). Faced with the prospect of certain death at his uncle’s hands, Amleth is forced to flee but vows brutal revenge against his Uncle for his crimes. Several decades later, the now-adult Amleth (Skarsgård) has transformed into a fierce and brutal Viking warrior. Having lost sight of his original mission for vengeance, a chance meeting with a seeress (a brilliant cameo by Icelandic singer Björk), reminds him of the promise he made to himself all those years ago.

Welcome to the Viking gun show…

Based on the legend of Amleth, which served as the inspiration for the character of Hamlet in the famous play by Shakespeare, Eggers and the Icelandic poet and novelist Sjón, have crafted a screenplay that is so steeped in the richness of Norse mythology, that there probably could be a whole short film devoted to the extensive research that undoubtedly went into the making of the film. While it is first and foremost a tale of one man’s mission for revenge, Eggers takes a lot of time in the first act to establish the culture and the mythology that was central to the civilisation at the time, while simultaneously incorporating the visually striking aesthetics he’s renowned for.  By taking his time to explore the complexities of Norse mythology, Eggers is able to immerse his audiences with scenes of wild rituals, songs and spells and sacrifices. While it is true that at its heart, the plot is very much one man’s quest for bloody revenge against the man who committed a terrible atrocity against him many years ago. However, that does the plot a disservice, as there’s so much more meat on the bones to this story.

Such a physical and brutal film requires a committed leading performance, and in Alexander Skarsgård’s leading turn as Amleth, you have that and then some. His physical transformation for this role is extremely impressive, practically at times having transformed himself into a terrifying feral creature that’s more animal than man. He’s an absolute behemoth of a warrior that you would categorically not want to find yourself in battle with. While his physical prowess cannot be denied, there’s unfortunately not a lot of room for character development, beyond his desire for revenge. The character of Fjölnir could have been a very cliched villain who commits an act of betrayal against his family out of jealousy towards his brother. But as a terrifying and ruthless antagonist, Claes Bang imbues him with nuances and motivations that flesh him out.

Re-teaming with Eggers, after The Witch, Anya Taylor-Joy’s Olga is perhaps the character who is given the most development as the sorceress Olga. A witch who’s resourceful and with a cunning intellect, she works closely with Amleth to help him achieve his goal. A further reunion comes in the form of Willem Dafoe, who is clearly having a riot in his small but significant role of Helmir the Fool. Given she’s reduced to a cameo appearance in the first two acts, you’d have been forgiven for forgetting Kidman was even in the film at all. However, this all dramatically changes as she really stamps her authority onto the scene during the climactic third act.

As this is a tale about vengeance, some violence was inevitable, but this time around, Eggers holds nothing back. The violence is uncompromisingly brutal that will test even the strongest of stomachs. The thrum of the booming drums that make up a considerable chunk of the score is the perfect complement to the sweeping visual majesty of the rip-roaring spectacle. Even with one or two pacing issues in and around the middle, it’s not enough to drag down the sheer epicness of what Eggers brings to this tale. Into the halls of Valhalla, we go!

Bloody, ferocious and wildly entertaining, with an exceptional cast and an extraordinarily committed leading performance from Skarsgård, an ascension into the halls of the greatest revenge films of all time awaits.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review, London Film Festival 2019

The Lighthouse (2019)

Image is property of A24, Focus Features and Regency Enterprises

The Lighthouse – Film Review

Cast: Robert Pattinson, Willem Dafoe

Director: Robert Eggers

Synopsis: Tasked with the maintenance of a lighthouse on a remote island, two lighthouse keepers find themselves in an increasingly desolate existence, desperately striving to maintain their sanity…

Review: How would you cope with the unforgiving isolation of living and working on such a small patch of land? With day after day of heavy, exhausting work in the most brutal, relentless weather conditions? Granted, the wonder of modern technology would make that situation in today’s world much less depressing. However, for the two souls at the heart of this barmy tale from Robert Eggers, with no such technology at their disposal, it will be the ultimate psychological battle to keep their composure, and sanity in one piece.

Set on a remote and desolate New England island in the 1890s, after an introduction that establishes an extremely ominous and tense atmosphere. The two, initially nameless, lighthouse keepers (Pattinson and Dafoe) are tasked with the maintenance and upkeep of the lighthouse. As their assignment begins, the brutality and unforgiving nature of their living conditions begin to take an extremely heavy toll on both men. The longer that they spend on the island with no other company but each other’s, the more the two of them find themselves being driven slowly to the brink of madness.

After unsettling audiences with The Witch, Robert Eggers continues that streak with another deeply unnerving psychological drama. By shooting in a 4:3 ratio, in black and white, he enhances the feeling of dread and suspense that builds from the very first shot that continues to linger, like a pesky seagull that’s got its eyes on your food, and refuses to leave you alone. The extremely ominous score enhances that feeling of everlasting dread, as these two men are put through the most intense psychological test. With Jarin Blaschke’s portentous cinematography, Eggers’s direction is masterful. The way he chooses to position the camera, and with some of his directorial choices, there’s a foreboding, sinister atmosphere that is maintained right throughout the film.

Given their immense talent as actors, it should come as no surprise that Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe give hypnotically magnificent performances. The relationship between them starts off on good terms and there’s a mutual respect. However, this doesn’t last as with each passing day of their solitude, it all begins to unravel. As both of them appear to be hiding something from the other, they both try to maintain their composure and sanity, all the while the distrust threatens to erupt into violence. The film screams volumes about themes of isolationism, and loneliness, and conveys them in an extremely unique manner. The tension builds to such a frightening extent that you could probably cut it with the bluntest of knives. With a script co-written by Eggers and his brother Max, there’s certainly an idiosyncratic factor to the events that unfold. Though while these may provoke emotions ranging from awe to dread, the magnetic performances will keep your attention on the screen.

Some of the actions depicted on screen will likely make you laugh, or wince in horror, or maybe a combination of the two. Furthermore, with undertones of a not very subtle nature, this film is most assuredly not for everyone. While the dialogue can be quite tricky to understand in places, Eggers has crafted a film that’s wholly original and extremely unique in terms of its production.  With only his second feature film, along with the likes of Ari Aster and Jordan Peele, Eggers has firmly stamped his mark on the horror genre, whilst simultaneously ensuring that any job applications for a vacant lighthouse keeper position may potentially diminish as a result.

Brooding and uncompromising, with sublime direction from Eggers, and a pair magnetic performances from the Pattinson and Dafoe, The Lighthouse is a film you definitely won’t forget in a hurry.