Tom Jolliffe looks at the upcoming Viking epic from Robert Eggers, The Northman…
Robert Eggers is two features into his fledgling film career and has already established himself as a major voice in auteur horror. Comparisons to Kubrick have been thrown his way with two films, The Witch and The Lighthouse, which is high praise indeed. Audiences have been a little more split, with his intense and singular visions dividing some fans. The Witch was possibly marketed as a more scare-filled, straight down the middle horror, as opposed to the atmospheric folk story he was telling. The Lighthouse too, is unabashed weirdness and as close to the magical, crazed intensity of The Shining as we’ve seen since Kubrick’s impeccable, perfectionist masterpiece. Eggers has set out to make distinct films the way he envisions them and he’s done that. There doesn’t appear any compromising in what he set out to achieve on either. That undoubtedly alienates some audiences, because it doesn’t seek to appease a wide spectrum. It’s not ‘safe’ which 90% of cinema these days ultimately is.
Eggers certainly hasn’t shown a fear of slow burning storytelling. He favours atmosphere and immersion into his settings, over distributor pleasing bullet points (like ‘action’ every 10 minutes, or other such unwritten guidelines). We are fully ensconced into the remote setting of the family in The Witch, or the isolated island and titular lighthouse in his most recent film. It’s rare these days to carefully and slowly pace a film that challenges its audience to give themselves over. The Lighthouse particularly is a rare beast, because it slowly lures you in, then tries its best to push you away. It was possibly my favourite film of last year and one I can see being even more of a cult favourite in 10-20 years time. It has layers worth unpeeling in further viewings. Ably assisted by gorgeous visuals and astonishing performances from Robert Pattinson and particularly Willem Dafoe.
So this brings us to his next film. As yet, not a huge deal is known about The Northman. Even as little as has been summized sounds brimming with potential greatness in the hands of Eggers … ‘Viking revenge saga set in Iceland at the turn of the 10th century.’ Who doesn’t love vikings? How about revenge sagas? There’s undoubtedly going to be some mythological elements, some horror and I don’t doubt an amazing atmosphere. That outline, in the hands of Eggers is potentially great. I’m generally a fan of Nordic cinema and the stark visuals, and there will likely be plenty of visual inspiration from all manner of North European Auteurs. Reportedly filming in Northern Ireland, that visual landscape will perfectly suit what they’re looking to achieve too and it’ll be interesting to see if Eggers decides to widen his frame having shot The Witch in 1.66:1 and The Lighthouse in the old Academy ratio (virtually square frame). Large open, Nordic landscapes could well suit 2.35:1 format.
I wouldn’t doubt Egger’s script and particularity of vision (and Jarin Blaschke, his cinematographer of choice also returns). So the next key ingredient is the cast, and here he seems to have excelled himself. Returning from The Witch we have Anya-Taylor Joy and Ralph Ineson. Two firm ticks of approval right there. Willem Dafoe is also back, and after such an awe inspiring turn in The Lighthouse, it’s clear Eggers was particularly inspiring for Dafoe. There are some great character actors too, like Olwen Fouere and Katie Dickie. Nicole Kidman adds some extra star power in a regal role which will most definitely suit her. Bill and Alexander Skarsgard are always interesting that’s an enticing double addition that suits Eggers’ style immensely. We just need Stellan, and it’s Skarsgard bingo and perfection.
One cast member that particularly interests me for a number of reasons is the ethereal and supremely talented Bjork. The elfin beauty had such a powerful cinematic breakout in Dancer In The Dark that it’s been something of a tragedy we haven’t seen her in film since. Such immense talent and often translated into her groundbreaking music videos and stage performances. It must have taken something special to tempt her back into feature cinema, and evidently Eggers managed it. Additionally, might we hear something from Bjork’s unique vocal range in the soundtrack too? I could imagine some 10th century viking Witch belting out some Bjork-esque vocal harmonies, set to strings. I love Bjork, so seeing her return to screen is exciting. Playing a character called The Slav Witch just sounds enigmatic and perfectly suited too. It just shows a distinct thought process, really outside the box that has become atypical of Eggers and as anticipation builds among his fanbase for his next film, here’s hoping he can live up to his own high bar.
Are you looking forward to The Northman? What do you think of the cast so far? Let us know your thoughts on our social pages @flickeringmyth…
Tom Jolliffe is an award winning screenwriter and passionate cinephile. He has a number of films out on DVD/VOD around the world and several releases due in 2020/21, including The Witches Of Amityville (starring Emmy winner, Kira Reed Lorsch), War of The Worlds: The Attack and the star studded action films, Renegades (Lee Majors, Billy Murray) and Crackdown. Find more info at the best personal site you’ll ever see…https://www.instagram.com/jolliffeproductions/