Review: "The Northman" and The Folkloric Cinema of Robert Eggers

The film "The Northman" is the third production by Robert Eggers, a young director who has redefined the way of making movies with his passion for folklore.

Still from the movie 'The Northman'

Photo: YT-Universal Pictures

LatinAmerican Post | Theoscar Mogollón González

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Leer en español: Reseña: "The Northman" y el cine folclórico de Robert Eggers

Folklore refers to a set of legends and popular beliefs that have been maintained by tradition over the years. Modern cinema has almost completely forgotten about this subgenre, but director Robert Eggers has taken it upon himself to redefine it and bring it back in style with productions acclaimed by critics and viewers. And it is that seven years after having debuted on the big screen, his third feature film promises to take us on another journey full of mysticism with "The Northman".

Set in early 10th century Iceland, Eggers brings us an epic and suspenseful tale of revenge starring Vikings. Amleth, a Norse prince, is forced to flee his home after his father is murdered and his mother kidnapped by his uncle. Years later, and already become a man, Amleth returns consumed by hatred to take revenge and take back what belongs to him. But it is the power of the images and the provocation of feelings that make this film something different from what has been seen before.

In fact, Eggers' films are not characterized by having great dialogues or a story that surrounds us, but by that power of generating different emotions in the viewer with small details. In "The Northman", such glimpses are achieved with the sets, the growls and the appearance of its characters that impress the naked eye. The director is even able to convince us that we also want that revenge, since the path that the protagonist must travel makes us empathize with him even though we know that this world is governed by codes different from ours.

This Viking adventure, like Amleth, stays on target and gets straight to the point. Once again, Eggers provides us with an unparalleled technical work, with rich shots and photography that captures the beautiful Nordic landscapes, all this without leaving behind magical realism with scenes of rituals, sorcery and strange dreams. As was marked in "The Witch" (2015) and "The Lighthouse" (2019), the director's passion for folkloric cinema has led to redefine the horror genre to another level.

"The Witch", the first mystical jewel

There should be nothing more folkloric than a witch. In what year this myth began, it is not known exactly, but Eggers transports us to New England in the 17th century, where a Puritan family moves to a small house near a forest that, according to popular belief, is dominated by evil forces. At first glance, the public is expecting such a figure to appear at any moment, but without the need for it to appear on screen, terror and anguish are felt on the surface.

Eggers' debut film manages to generate that restlessness with a simple set of shots and a subdued setting that slowly cooks the horror that everyone expects. It is from here on that the director disregards the typical Hollywood tricks for these productions, since with a few simple disturbing and incongruous sequences he instills fear and suspense from start to finish.

With "The Witch", Eggers portrays the customs, beliefs and lifestyle of the people of that time, which was always marked by constant stories of witchcraft. And it is that without the need to repeat the clichés or stereotypes of the cinema, this work ended up becoming a reference of the folkloric terror of the seventh art.

Also read: "Diomedes: the Idol, the Mystery and the Tragedy" Shows Its Three Faces

"The Lighthouse", the terror of loneliness

Inspired by Edgar Allan Poe's latest short story "The Light-House," Eggers and his brother Max teamed up to bring this period thriller to the big screen. Very few filmmakers have carried out productions with a lighthouse as the main figure, because although many do not believe it, these places usually have hundreds of fantastic stories due to the chilling solitude that surrounds them. Set once again in New England, but at the end of the 19th century, here we follow the daily lives of two lighthouse keepers who lose their sanity when a storm leaves them isolated on an island.

On this occasion, the tape is recorded in black and white and with an aspect ratio of 1.19:1 to give a touch of classic cinema to a dark fable. These magnificent and esoteric images are joined by the impeccable performances of Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe, who push their work to the limit to show us how their characters gradually descend into dementia together. In fact, it is thanks to that acting duel that the narration has an exquisite touch.

In other words, "The Lighthouse" forces us to stay in an atmosphere of tension and claustrophobia, with moments of intrigue and hallucinations, which becomes suffocating as the minutes go by. Without a doubt, a folk tale that will resonate in your mind and soul like the strong waves that hit during storms.