“Wiking”: revenge in a bloody style [RECENZJA]

  • “Wiking” by Robert Eggers, creator of, among others loud “Lighthouse”, in cinemas from April 22
  • This is a story about revenge straight from “Hamlet”, but set in the world of Vikings – the main character is a prince who seeks revenge on his uncle, the murderer of his father
  • The lead roles are played by Alexander Skarsgård, Nicole Kidman, Claes Bang and Anya Taylor-Joy, as well as Ethan Hawke, Willem Dafoe and Björk
  • The film is extremely brutal and at the same time very realistic. We may have several objections to the plot, as well as not understand the motivations of some characters, but for over two hours we move to another world and it is a very satisfying and one-of-a-kind journey.
  • More reviews of movies and series can be found on the Onet homepage

Denmark, turn of the 9th and 10th centuries. King of the Vikings Horwendil (Ethan Hawke) returns home from another bloody expedition, greeted by his wife, Queen Gudrun (Nicole Kidman) and teenage son Amleth. The king is wounded and soon falls victim to an assassination attempt by his brother Fjölnir (Claes Bang). The son is witness to the murder – but the boy manages to escape and swears revenge … When we see him in the next scene, he is already an adult and does not look like an innocent teenager. After one look in his eyes, we know that the path to revenge will not be easy. Especially since it seems that the former prince (Alexander Skarsgård) left her long ago.

Sounds a bit familiar? Yes of course. After all, we know the Danish prince Amleth, who loses his father as a result of his uncle’s murderous plot, from “Hamlet”. Shakespeare drew his story from Scandinavian legends written at the end of the 12th century, creating a universal story about revenge and the lust for power, and in fact about the condition of man in the modern world.

It is similar in “Wiking”, which takes the prototype of Hamlet from the beginning and in some way turns this Scandinavian myth upside down. And here nobody has to pretend their madness.

“Wiking” is the third film by Robert Eggers (and with his script, this time co-written with the Icelandic poet and prose writer Sjón). The American first impressed viewers with the horror film “The Witch: A Fairy Tale from New England” (2015), and then invited them to a real feast of psychological delirium in the form of “Lighthouse” (2019).

Filmed for $ 90 million. the brutal spectacle from the world of Scandinavian warriors was supposed to premiere in 2020, but it is known – not only for this film the pandemic thwarted its plans. But maybe it was a good thing, because the appetite for the premiere really grew, and it was fueled by a well-thought-out marketing strategy and, above all, successful trailers.

Has the long wait been rewarded? Yes, and with a vengeance, although not everything is correct here. First things first.

First of all, “Wiking” is indeed a great historical spectacle, after which you can see every cent spent – shot with great momentum and realism at the same time. If we had to choose this year’s premiere, which takes us to a completely different reality to the greatest extent, Eggers’s work would be a sure candidate for first place. From the literal first frame we are in a completely different, extremely authentically presented world – warriors are really tired and dirty, you can almost smell them, bleeding wounds are disgusting and terrifying, and the Scandinavian frost literally tears from the screen.

At the same time, it is visually beautiful – the landscapes of Iceland, to which at some point we are transferred by the fabula, are breathtaking, and the Slavic forests and river basins are pleasantly familiar. We see a world that both repels and attracts.

Alexander Skarsgård in the movie "Viking"Alexander Skarsgård in the movie “Wiking” – Aidan Monaghan, Focus Features / Press materials

The result is one of the most brutal revenge films ever made – in this respect it is much closer to “Oldboy” than “Death Wish”, and in terms of climate, it has a lot in common with “Phantom”. Revenge tastes best cold, but Eggers apparently assumed that it was also bloody, because it is cold in Scandinavia anyway. With “John Wick” or “Kill Bil”, other vindictive stories, it is difficult to compare his image, not only because of the almost complete lack of humorous elements. Against the background of “Wiking” they look almost like fairy tales – and “Wiking” is immersed in magic, although we do not know how real it is.

Experiments with exteriorization or visions of the main character shown on the screen – incl. conversation with the Prophetess (great episode of Björk!) – after all, they can only be figments of Amleth’s imagination or the use of various mysterious means and potions. Like his visually impressive battle with Draug, the mythical undead Viking. Here we got pictures associated with productions such as “Lord of the Rings” or “Game of Thrones”.

Anya Taylor-Joy in the movie "Viking"Anya Taylor-Joy in the movie “Wiking” – Aidan Monaghan, Focus Features / Press materials

This is definitely not a production for the sensitive. No one is fussed about it – rape and guts on top are the order of the day, as are severed heads and any other body parts we can imagine. The scene of the slaughter of a Slavic village, shot in one shot, is particularly suggestive – its overtones are enhanced by the awareness that a similar horrendum is happening in the world today, very close to us. And the scene with the barn, in which someone closed the door from the outside before it burned down, evokes other images …

Another thing is that in “Wiking” it is difficult to like the heroes, with the possible exception of Olga, played by Anya Taylor-Joy, known from “The Queen’s Gambit”, an actress with a very characteristic “medieval” beauty. Even Amleth himself, the lonely avenger, does not arouse any particular sympathy, and we don’t always want to cheer him on – and several times we want to get up and give us a solid kick in the ass. But maybe it’s better not to, because he would still turn around and give up.

We certainly see a world where there is almost no room for nobility and good intentions. On the other hand, nothing is black and white here either, not everyone who seems unequivocally angry turns out to be so – and vice versa.

Ethan Hawke in the movie "Viking"Ethan Hawke in the movie “Wiking” – Aidan Monaghan, Focus Features / Press materials

Alexander Skarsgård in the lead role is a cast hit – his hero speaks little, shows no feelings and of course looks like a warrior – and to the audience’s satisfaction, he is very effective in his actions. It does not bother the awareness that in the series, which was for the actor a ticket to popularity – “Pure Blood” – he played the role of a vampire who in the 10th century was … a Viking.

The biggest star is Nicole Kidman, who plays Amleth’s mother. Unfortunately, you feel that the actress feels average in this queen’s costume, perhaps because her character is the most problematic for the plot – it’s hard to believe in the choices she makes. The key scene with the son’s participation is particularly controversial. Anyway, there are more such debatable moments, but describing them would require revealing the details of the plot.

Ethan Hawke as King Horwendil obviously has a minor role, he is also unrecognizable because of his chin – unlike Willem Dafoe, Heimir’s Fool. For a moment, the characteristic mocking laugh returns, and so does the madness. Certainly not stupidity, because his hero is only a fool perversely.

The atmosphere of the film is influenced not only by cinematography, set design and costumes, but also by a completely out-of-date musical setting, created by the producer and composer tandem Vessel (Sebastian Gainsborough) and Robin Carolan. The main inspiration here was Nordic folk and it sounds fantastic – the soundtrack is filled with rhythmic, hypnotic-sounding songs that take us a thousand years into the past.

There is something primal, almost atavistic and very natural in this music – a breath of freshness and authenticity against the backdrop of the predominant synthetic sounding wallpapers in such cinema. The perfect setting for a frost-free tale of a time when honor meant everything – and certainly more than common sense.

“Wiking” lasts almost 140 minutes. And although the story is captivating from the beginning, it probably wouldn’t hurt to shorten it by ten or fifteen minutes, even if it’s not a big complaint. Perhaps the creator wanted the realism of his story to somehow encircle the viewer, and at times he would have enough of it, like heroes for whom fate had prepared something worse than hell on earth. Mainly, however, we taste this delirium.

Three titles were enough and Robert Eggers became one of the most intriguing filmmakers who cannot be easily pigeonholed, standing outside of one genre – we have to wait impatiently for what he will come up with in his planned miniseries about “Rasputin”. [5/6]

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