2020, R, 104 min. Directed by André Øvredal. Starring Nat Wolff, Pryanka Bose, Iben Akerlie, Per Frisch, Per Egil Aske, Arthur Hakalahti.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Nov. 13, 2020
Norway! Come for the fjords but stay for this muddled and moody M. Night Shyamalan-cum-Marvel Cinematic Universe rip-off! (Or not. I hear the fjords are particularly enchanting this time of year.) A major stumble from André Øvredal, the director who previously helmed Fantastic Fest favorites Trollhunter, The Autopsy of Jane Doe, and last year’s Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, Mortal is less its own film and more a miscellany of tropes and story beats lifted from other genre films. It all ads up to a final, revelatory sequence that’s not half as apocalyptical as it wants and needs to be.
Wolff plays the enigmatic protagonist Eric Bergland, an American of Norwegian descent first glimpsed amidst an ice wasteland, his hair filthy and wild, a heavy-duty backpack slung over his shoulders. It turns out that this fish-out-of-water drifter type has a long-simmering connection to the town he wanders into, something to do with a conflagration that killed five townspeople some years ago. Early on a young boy approaches him and Eric bluntly tells the kid not to touch him “or you will burn,” the outcome of which leads to one less curious and now crispy kiddo and Eric’s arrest by the local constabulary. There he’s taken in by the oddly kind police chief Henrik (Frisch) who puts him under the care of Christine (Akerlie, very good in the role), a stereotypically cool but kind blonde psychologist with issues of her own. As she plumbs the depth of this tormented young man’s psyche a predictable romance develops, although Christine’s actions toward and eventually with her patient strain the credibility of psychologically ethical and efficacious treatments.
Øvredal again pairs himself with cinematographer Roman Osin, so at the very least we get some gorgeous albeit foreboding images of the sheer epic beauty of Norway; you can see straight off why Norse mythology has such a hold on the minds of mere mortals such as, oh, Stan Lee for instance.
Mortal plods along for most of its running time with the occasional helicopter chase scene and plenty of CGI fulminology: But ultimately Ovredal’s not-so-deep-dive into Norwegian mythos is a too-obvious let down. Far more interesting and also occasionally touching on similar ground, but in a far more intellectually fantastique fashion, is Starz adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, which I highly recommend for those with an interest in the myths and legends of mankind past and present. I guarantee you’ll be better served, deity-wise, than anything Mortal has to offer.