zdiluzio’s review published on Letterboxd:
Violent, brutal, compelling, entertaining, with a touch of bizarre. This was a spectacle to me, and I enjoyed pretty much every second of it. Soundtrack was excellent, an amalgamation of the Dune throat chanting and the Witcher 3. The visuals didn't necessarily stand out, but they were fitting, and the style of the shots, the motion and editing (or lack thereof) grabbed my attention rather than the way the scenes were framed, which I thought was appropriate considering the tone of the story here. The scale was appropriately subdued, which was a nice touch. Absolutely spectacular acting across the board. And for a two hour and twenty minute film, it felt like it flew by, which is always a great sign. I was never bored. The action was interesting, creative, and in service of the plot. There were no holds barred on that front. At the same time, I was frequently reminded of the Green Knight, although I'm not quite sure how to verbalize why.
Overall, this was pretty much a straight up action movie with a relatively simplistic plot, but I do think there was some attempt at creating some interesting themes and messages (then again, humans see patterns where there are none, so who knows). I thought the film did a magnificent job playing the viewer into considering Amleth a hero, much like Amleth was played into thinking his father was a hero. Both the audience and Amleth get the rug pulled out at the same time. The film effectively frames the story as it is in Amleth's head for a good percentage of the runtime. We do eventually find out Amleth is objectively a murderous, unhinged animal who exists solely to enact torture and revenge, but the film hides it from us under the guise of cliche story beats early on. It only reveals the truth once Amleth finds out the same, which was dope as fuck.
I think it's clear that he was not a hero, by the way. Is Amleth a hero for murdering a man whose only crime was murdering another man who was actually a scourge himself? Is Amleth a hero for stalking the night with a night blade, torturing and burning in service of a goal that exists purely in his mind? Is Amleth a hero for freeing the slaves? They made a point earlier in the film to explicitly state that the slaves don't try to escape because escape means death at the hands of mother nature. There is nowhere to go. Is that really a victory? Amleth purports to save his mother, only to find that she wanted to be there, and ends up killing her too. Along the way we see an incredible amount of butchery and suffering caused by Amleth AND others inbued with the same "beast". By the end, Amleth and his uncle are literal shadows fighting in Hell itself, which seemed to be a purposeful decision to show the complete lack of humanity in both. And in the end, beautifully and appropriately, they both strike each other down at the same time. Nobody wins here. To me, there is no hero, and that is the result of the violent rhetoric and religion rampant in this film.
This is a story about the futility of revenge, the brutality of life, the weaponization of religious fervor, and even the cycle of violence over generations. And it's also a fucking sweet action movie at the same time. Absolutely fantastic