Director Robert Eggers has managed to make a name for himself in a relatively short period of time with his first two films ‘The witch’ (The Witch, 2015) and ‘The lighthouse’ (The Lighthouse, 2019), that have placed you on the map in a prestigious positionand now, he seeks to make himself known to a wider audience with his latest work, the bloody Viking revenge story ‘The Northman’ (The Northman, 2022).
Doubling the budget of both films, his new work adapts the Nordic legend that inspired ‘Hamlet’. Described in books III and IV of Saxo Grammaticus’ ‘Gesta Danorum’, Amleth was a Norse prince whose place in the royal succession was in jeopardy after the death of his father, King Horvendill, at the hands of his uncle, Feng. From this canvas Eggers rescues mythology, magic, beliefs and a lot of aesthetics related to his previous works and, especially, the particular imagery of folk horror that the production company A24 has been displaying in its fantastic films.
a common aesthetic
‘The Northman’ is produced by Universal, but just the presence of Eggers makes it look like an independent production that would have poured many more millions. Part of his visual style has been marking the different productions of the company that launched ‘The Witch’ and many of them have in common a format that is generally much narrower than a panorama, with different variations of the 1:66 aspect ratio, ideal for his portrait of forests and an almost parodic abundance of very frontal close-ups, sometimes as scenes such as and how they look in a play.
A common element that has been defining the A24 cinema is that Bergman heritage taken to the extreme, with a great concern for the frames that close the image, the different occasions to create symmetriesthe musty tones and a careful artistic design that has been perpetuated in other films by other directors such as David Lowery, and even Joel Coen in their respective films for the company.
Both have a lot in common with ‘The Man from the North’ and, while ‘Macbeth’ (2021) takes a hint or two from the aesthetics of ‘The Witch’ (The Vvitch, 2015), with that oracle that turns into a raven , Eggers’ own work also has strong connections to Shakespeare, and also begins, like Coen’s, with a shot of crows flying. The visual imprint of ‘The Green Knight’ (The Green Knight, 2021) is even more similar, also connecting with the world of legend and tales in an adult way.
The roots of the witch
As in Lowery’s film, Eggers takes care of the framing elements in detail, with some particularly similar moments, in relation to the beheadings and the production design, but what is most striking is that in both there is a little fox with a special connection with the protagonistalthough in the last one he does not speak directly, and has a point more similar to that of ‘Antichrist’ (Antichrist, 2009).
Not by chance I was there Willem Dafoe, and it was also a sample of an author’s terror that was setting the guidelines for what would be the prestige of the genre in the following decade. The influence of Lars Von Trier was already noticeable in ‘The Witch’, especially in the use of forest animals that are unnatural and diabolicalalso that evil influence of the forest, the natural space as a connection with the ancestral, the unspeakable terror that we have been cataloging in recent years as folk horror, and of course the presence of sorceresses, in this case an enigmatic seer played by björk.
If in ‘The Witch’ that power played with the iconography of the émigré Puritans, the power of the legend did contain pagan roots that deserve the name, especially in the dances around the bonfirea rescue of the end of the 2015 film that here is transformed into a party for the slaves, normalizing the ritual as something common within a pre-Christian culture, giving another nuance to the terror of New England, whose occult practices are pure survival of magic of ancestors.
An unofficial prequel to Midsommar
From this same magical material appear levitations, animals with mystical connections, especially, again, ravensand a dark atmosphere that shares the same chromatic and sound universe with ‘The Witch’, from which two favorite actors of the director also come, Ralph Ineson and Anya Taylor-Joywho in some scenes wears a crown of leaves like Florence Pugh in ‘Midsommar’ (2019), another A24 flagship that consecrated the director Ari Aster, whom he thanks at the end of the credits along with other filmmakers who gave notes and support to make the movie.
The connection with Aster’s film is deeper, also in those dances and pagan celebrations of the slaves, which draw a culture with many connections with the Swedes who maintain pagan rituals in the small community of the Hårga in that one. Thus, here we have runic symbols that are common in both cultures, the Scandinavian root that connects it has a common Viking residue that leaves details familiar with Déjà vu. They celebrate by toasting with a loud SKÅL! There are many similar wooden constructions, even triangular variations of the shared huts.
The death in the form of a blood eagle, the bloðorn, that was seen in ‘Midsommar’ could be one of the various ritual sacrifices that we see in ‘The man from the north’, especially that “collage” of bodies nailed to a wall, and we also see tapestries with a similar drawing style, even the use of animal skin as a costume. It’s not hard to imagine Aster and Eggers colluding on the idea of a common pagan universe. in which his horror films are the consequence of the disappearance of the traditions shown in the bloody epic of Amleth and his search for Valhalla.