“I will avenge you, Father! I will save you, Mother! I will kill you, Fjölnir!”
Amleth, The Northman
The Northman’s thin plot takes the barest bones of Hamlet — a son sworn to avenge his father and kill his usurper uncle — but succeeds in transplanting this revenge tale into a compellingly foreboding world of Norse mythology. Robert Eggers seeks verisimilitude not only in bringing to life Viking reality but also their mythology and ritual practices. Atmospherically akin to The Green Knight, the pacing requires patience though Viking violence provides more action. The budget and scale may have increased dramatically from Eggers’ previous projects like The Lighthouse, but The Northman retains the same intensity through personal conflict. Alexander Skarsgård is a brooding presence, hulking and animalistic, humanised through his gentler interactions with the wonderful Anya Taylor-Joy as an understanding counterpoint. The characters are (or feel themselves to be) pawns to the whims of fate, and the cinematography reflects this with vast Icelandic vistas that dwarf individuals in the frame. It may be difficult to find joy in the world Eggers has created but the uncompromising experience is more gripping than most big budget modern cinema.
“How long have we been on this rock? Five weeks? Two Days? Where are we? Help me to recollect.”
A bizarre dramatic thriller that veers into horror as two lighthouse keepers on an isolated island struggle to maintain their sanity, The Lighthouse relies upon the combative, escalating performances of the film’s only two characters. Willem Dafoe’s irascible senior “wickie”, showing occasional softness only when he drinks, seems at first less nuanced than Robert Pattinson’s increasingly manic role. As we realise we are seeing much through the unreliable eyes of the latter, it emerges that Dafoe is effectively playing two roles, with the audience left to determine (or perhaps decree) reality. The use of black and white is more than mere affectation, the starkly oppressive visuals matched by overbearing sound design, frequently interrupted by the blare of a passing ship’s foghorn. Robert Eggers is unafraid to have darkness swallow most of the screen during night sequences. Even the use of the Academy aspect ratio is claustrophobic by modern standards — pressed in at the sides — as much as it harkens back to classic 1930s horror.