We were on a streak of seeing truly odd and unusual movies—unique, even—when we decided to catch this more conventional Danish film about a middle-aged man who flees to the forests of Norway to get in touch with his Viking heritage. There is little more disheartening than seeing the way modernity has sapped the Vikings, the Scots, the Western US and Canada—places we associate traditionally with vigor and independence—and one feels that our hero, Martin (Rasmus Bjerg) shares those sentiments as he bumbles around the forest with his cell phone and poorly crafted bow.
The story is that Martin has, under pretense of going on a business trip, decided to just live in the wild. Without telling anyone. Including his wife. He’s also completely unprepared, really. When we first see him, he manages to put an arrow in a little deer but not actually kill it. Desperate for food, he raids a nearby convenience store. This is our first real indication he’s actually in the modern world, although we’re not actually surprised by this.
Martin looks soft. He looks modern. His skin and hair are well cared-for, even if he has let his beard grow out. He’s in the woods but he’s got his little cheats: A tent, a sleeping bag, the occasional convenience store raid—though as he rationalizes later on, stealing from others is about the most Viking thing you can do.
Enter into this less than idyllic scene, one drug mule named Musa (Zaki Youssef, The Looming Tower). Musa’s with his two buddies on his way to make a drop off when their car hits an elk. An elk, for those who don’t know is like a miniature moose, but since the car they’re in is also a miniature, it’s totaled and the two buddies are incapacitated. Musa, realizing the penalty for failing to make a drop-off and not wanting to get busted by the cops, heads off into the woods to find the little town where his relay is stationed.
Instead, he finds Martin who chases off the cops he believes are looking for him for the convenience store thing. Musa convinces Martin to go to the nearby Viking village—a kind of Nordic themed Renaissance Festival—which also happens to be on the way, while the cops (who really would rather be anywhere else) are reduced to explaining their failure to their crusty old boss.
Eventually, the two drug buddies recover, hijacking the car of a man and his shrewish, pregnant wife. Martin thinks he’s found heaven-on-earth in the Viking village where a classic Nordic giant greets him as a kin—right until the flirty grilled-meat wench tries to ring him up on her iPad and spoils the illusion. (We had a bunch of those Danish grilled meat places try to take hold here pre-pandemic but they don’t seem to have last. Also, I swear they were all called “döner”—er, maybe with a slash through the o and not the umlaut—which is how “kebab” filtered through Europe. Hardly classic Viking.)
Anyway, you can see what’s going on here. Martin, the decent family man feeling robbed of his Viking birthright by modern comforts; Musa, the lone wolf but essentially not evil criminal; his two drug buddies, genuinely murderous thugs; the hen-pecked powerless husband; the crusty old sheriff (Bjørn Sundquist, Dead Snow, Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters) from an older time… We’re struggling with the concepts of masculinity.
I think Martin had the right idea, even if his execution lacked any sort of reasonable plan or path to success.
Overall, it’s an effective film. Somewhat melancholy and low-key as Scandinavian movies tend to be but with a rather surprising third act: This isn’t really a comedy or played for laughs overall, as the question of what it means to be a man takes on a literal life-or-death situation. Director Thomas Daneskov’s last project was a miniseries documentary called “Just Boys IRL” about teen gamers meeting for the first time and I can’t help but think that informed this movie.
Worth a watch.