Directed by: Mikkel Brænne Sandemose
Written by: John Kåre Raake
Cast: Pål Sverre Hagen, Nicolai Cleve Broch, Sofia Helin, Bjørn Sundquist
Norse mythology is some of the coolest mythology there is. Sure the Greeks have shape changing gods and super powered monsters, and the Egyptians have some zany stories about crocodiles eating hearts with feathers and scales and all sorts of madness. The Norse though, #THENORSETHO, have everything. There’s drama, monsters, wars, giants, all sorts of planes of existence. It’s one of the fullest sagas ever conceived. With respect to the awesome legends, it draws upon Mikkel Brænne Sandemose’s Ragnarok is a bit of a disappointment. It’s hard to muster totally positive feelings about a movie called Ragnarok that has no war of the Gods and instead is basically a creature feature.
As far as that goes though it’s not so bad. The film does a great job of explaining the real world history upon which it is based. It’s a story about an archaeologist who works on the Oseberg Ship, an old Viking vessel that was found in Norway and whose discovery provides a great deal of our contemporary knowledge regarding Viking culture. The archaeologist, Sigurd Svendsen (Pål Sverre Hagen) finds his job at the museum in danger when his pitch to a group of investors goes off the rails, and he mentions his theories regarding the mythological implications of runes found on the ship.
Sigurd returns home distressed (he’s a very busy dad and his children suffer for it. The movie makes that clear when he misses his daughter’s recital and is late picking them up from school), and starts to become depressed. Luckily his friend Allan (Nicolai Cleve Broch) has just made a discovery that could change everything. It’s an ancient Viking tablet found off the coast of Finnmark. This discovery confirms Sigurd’s theory that the Oseberg Vikings traveled much farther North than anyone had anticipated. Not only that but the tablet has a space on it that is designed to hold one of the pieces from the museum. After removing the piece from the museum, (on murky legal footing) the two discover that the tablet is actually a map. Sigurd informs his children that they are not going to Spain for Summer vacation. Instead, they’re going north to Finnmark in search of Viking treasure.
Once they arrive Sigurd, Allan, and the kids meet up with Allan’s assistant Elisabeth (Sofia Helin) and their guide Leif (Bjørn Sundquist). These first scenes in Finnmark are some of the films best. They construct clear characters and show the beautiful Scandinavian landscape in all of its glory. The camera drinks in the beautiful hills, endless skies, and dense forest with a clear appreciation for the natural beauty on display. Sandemose is very proud of his ancestral home. It is once they arrive at the suspected site of the treasure (an amazing island in the middle of a pristine lake) that things start to go off the rails, for both the characters and the audience. The team discovers ancient Viking artifacts only for Leif to steal them, take the raft, and leave the adventurers alone on the island. There are many great opportunities for scares, of both the atmospheric and monster variety in the following scenes, but few are taken.
Ragnarok wants to be Nordic Jaws, but doesn’t have the right vibe for a monster you never see to be scary. This is especially true in the context of the title. A movie called Ragnarok begs for supernatural phenomena, and the audience needs to see that. Once the film realizes this and gets over its Spielberg fetish, there’s not much time left. We are treated to a litany of shots of the monster wreaking havoc as Sigurd and friends flee from hiding place to hiding place. The movie never feels kinetic enough to be intriguing. The monster is scary, but doesn’t get enough time to do work. The atmosphere would be haunting, but so much work is done to convey the natural beauty that it never feels scary. It’s a good attempt but this movie can’t quite figure itself out. Instead, you get a movie that feels a little tone-deaf, and doesn’t quite make sense. It’s worth watching on a night when you’ve run out of new horror fare, but for me it’s not much more than that.