Amleth is a young child who sees his father get brutally murdered by his uncle, who then marries the dead mans wife and takes his throne. Twenty years later, Amleth comes back for revenge.
I think Robert Eggers hates his audience. I don’t mean that in a negative way, I mean he refrains from explaining things and making it easier for you. He explores difficult concepts, and doesn’t hold your hand and walk you through it. He revels in making you play catch up, making it so you can’t sit back and rest, your brain has to constantly work. Visually he does his best to make you uncomfortable too, not so much with moments of extreme violence, but a lot of focus on the aftermath.
This is intense, and it won’t be for everybody. If you get a chance to see this with subtitles, take that chance as it will be a much better experience. Like I said, this film doesn’t care if you’re comfortable, if you miss an important piece of dialogue, it’s not going to repeat it or give you any indication of what happened. In a way I admire it, it’s good to see a director who doesn’t treat his viewers like idiots, but on the other hand, I am an idiot, so some bits seemed a bit “wait, what exactly is happening here?” Especially when it comes to character deaths, people die and you get the feeling they’re big deals, but the camera never gets a good look at their face, and they’re not named, so you’re trying to retroactively figure out who it was, and then it turns out they were characters you never really met so……
There’s quite a bit of wasted time in this, particularly at the start. It’s strange as when you’re watching it it doesn’t feel wasted, you can see why it’s there. But then once the main plot gets started (mainly once he gets on an island), you feel “maybe it should have started somewhat closer to here”, especially given how underwritten some of the other characters are, it could have cut some of the earlier scenes and replaced them with scenes fleshing out the other characters.
I do respect the realistic take on the characters. I mean, once you ignore all the mystical and Bjork. It doesn’t show the “heroes” as particularly heroic, the main character hangs around with a group who invade a town and massacre the inhabitants, brutally. It’s shocking to see on screen, it’s not just “chop chop stab stab ultra violence” violence, it’s cold, calculating and it’s evilness is only matches by the pointlessness of the actions. At one point, they set fire to a building. You sit there thinking “oh, they’re just destroying the town and driving the people out”. But then you hear screaming from inside, and banging on the door, and the full implications of what you’re watching are apparent. It’s horrific, disturbing, and would have made a better opening I think. If we started with an invasion on a town, all the horrific acts going on, and THEN realise that one of these guys is the hero, it would add more nuance to whether he’s really the good guy. As it is, it opens with him as a child, so that innocence is always in your brain and stops you seeing him as being as ruthless as he actually is when you think about it.
This has definitely not been marketed well. It’s been marketed as being like Gladiator, something aimed at the mass market. This isn’t like that at all. This has a niche audience, and I fear the trailer might have actually put them off (unless the director’s name hooked them in). This is more like The Count Of Monte Cristo than anything else it’s been compared to.
So in summary, there’s a high chance you’ll hate this; it’s mean-spirited, confusing at times, and slow. But then again, you may love it for the exact same reason. I’m glad I watched it, but don’t think I’ll need to see it again. I very much appreciated what has been done, just wasn’t for me. But there is a definite audience for this, and they will love it.