A Hidden Life
It’s one of the year’s best and most distinctive movies, though sure to be divisive, even alienating for some viewers, in the manner of nearly…
David L.G. Hughes’ “Viking Destiny” is known as "Of God and Warriors" in other countries, but it gets a very telling retitling for its American release. There are vikings in this movie, and there is destiny. Pure to its junky intentions, if you like your movies served to you without confusion as to the character or their narrative arc, here it is: The destiny of a viking.
But what makes this tale different, at least this script thinks so, is that the viking of particular destiny is a woman, Anna Demetriou’s Helle. At the beginning of this story, we find out that she was born to King Asmund (Andrew Whipp), who traded her as a baby with her uncle’s son, after her mother died in childbirth. For 21 years, Helle has been raised by her uncle but shown to be a natural warrior and leader, far better than the king’s less-aggressive son.
Although the uncle Prince Bard (Timo Nieminen) might have seemed like he was helping out his brother, his evil scheme comes to light: take the kingdom of Volsung by trying to secretly kill off the two heirs. Mini-power games come to play, which might excite people struggling to get through this “Game of Thrones” break, and need simple images of brutal portrayal. But the drama is clunky and busy, especially as Helle runs away from Volsung to protect herself.
Juggling other supporting characters, including a band of bland vikings that want Helle to be queen and a group of forest hippie-types that want to protect her, the story is centered around Demetriou’s solid performance as a hero and symbol. It’s more that the feminism that the story is excited by is not airtight—men still have to protect her even when her skills are obvious, she still needs men to tell her what to do with her destiny, and she even has a “always a bridesmaid” moment with a pointless love interest later introduced. The story does not give Helle enough charisma, aside from asserting her skill with a sword, or her compassion for people
This is a movie of various different efforts, with some actors who believe in it and others who clearly don't. Far on the “so over it” scale is Terence Stamp as Odin, who appears with a bored face and a blue vest every now and then to espouse different ideas, but also to move the plot along. But on the other end, there’s his counterpart, Loki (Murray McArthur), who appears to relish the movie as if he were auditioning for a cosplay role, sneering his lines as a type of wicked angel on the shoulder of various vikings. He offers the type of campiness that might sell this movie to those who just need swords and spurting blood to be wooed.
"Viking Destiny" simply wants that viking aesthetic, so it shoehorns glimpses of brutality using Prince Bard, as in a sex scene that takes a sharp turn into disturbing murder, or a few gratuitous shots of blood spurting out during the third act battle. But it feels to be of a different tone than the world Helle is living in, her story focused on finding a type of peace and purpose, especially when everything collides in the end for a battle featuring every living member in the cast. Overall, the story lacks a proper griminess, in part because much of it is shot in pure daylight and the costuming lacks a grungy look.
Action in general is a tough feat for this movie, as much as it coddles bloodlust and throws in some tightly choreographed sword fights. It sometimes comes down the cinematography, which too often goes wide with its camera and zips out the energy of an intimate duel, when not abusing slow motion or having characters dramatically flip after getting hit. There's a shabby idea of scope, too, as in a big battle at the end that just looks like a bunch of extras playing Red Rover but with weapons. This is the type of movie that makes you too often aware of the mechanics behind fantasy storytelling, from Demetriou's red hair dye down to meticulous lines of splattered blood on a warrior’s face.
“Viking Destiny” desperately wants to feel like a viking movie, but it also wants to talk like one, which means that plenty of bumper sticker-ready aphorisms are spouted before normal lines of dialogue. Some of my favorites: “Rain does not fall on one roof alone”; “A song can only be heard when it’s sung.” Or the best one: “Sleep is the cousin of death.” I may not remember much about “Viking Destiny” come next week, but I’ll be finding ways in the next few years to sneak these humdingers into daily conversation.
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