{Movie Review} Mortal (2020)

Mortal, the newest film by director André Øvredal channels the best parts of sleeper hit Brightburn while exploring exactly what it is to be human.

*Spoilers ahead*

We first discover Eric (Nat Wolff) as a vagabond who accidently kills one of the bullies that seems to be picking on him. Through an escalating series of events Eric finds himself in police custody and Hathaway (Priyanka Bose) a vague government figure seems intent on weaponizing Eric’s god like power. Christine (Iben Akerlie) acts as Eric’s therapist looking for what makes Eric tick in a way to save his life and help him harness his powers for good. The movie culminates with Eric finding a (read his) hammer and embracing where he came from.

André Øvredal is one of the freshest and most exciting horror directors producing movies right now. From Troll Hunter to The Autopsy of Jane Doe, to his Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. Everything he lays his hands on ends up looking original and compelling. Mortal maintains that record. At its core it’s an origin story. From the first few minutes characters start speculating that Eric is Thor.

Courtesy of 42 Productions

The “twist” feels a bit punctured by this early speculation and thus the final twenty minutes feel less revealing and more introspective. There is a nuance that Øvredal brings to the Norse mythology in the film that makes it feel gritty and authentic. When holding up the MCU’s version of Thor and Øvredal’s there is no contest whose is more interesting. The fact that the Norwegian Øvredal brings with his interpretation a cultural relevance makes the movie even more watchable. This movie further shores up Øvredal’s credibility as a director with a clear vision and confidence.

Lightening Everywhere

The CG early in this movie is a bit dodgy. The movie is not entirely sure if it wants to explore all of the powers of our main character and as a result some scenes look a bit half baked. I am also not entirely clear what his powers are early on which left me confused and running to keep up with a plot that moves very quickly. The scope of this movie is intentionally much larger and grander than anything else I have seen from Øvredal. In some ways that works. The themes of Mortal are quite clear and as a cultural artifact I was intrigued. As a big screen tent pole, maybe less so, but perhaps those larger moments might play better on a bigger screen.

Nat Wolff possesses a human quality that makes his Eric infinitely watchable. He is not cocky, but rather confused and often saddened by his own power. As a teacher of teenagers and a father of one this fear of new power really resonated. In that way Øvredal has found a perfect lead to help discuss what it is to not only be a human but also what it is to be a man. Mortal zooms when it leans into these themes. Even in the penultimate scene where Eric discovers his hammer. Eric/Thor picks up a pretty basic looking hammer and dons a leather apron. Thor is at his core just a regular hardworking dude. Perhaps that is Øvredal’s point. Everyday folks are heroes. I am cool with that.

Wolff and Akerlie

If Wolff is good Iben Akerlie is absolutely stunning, striking the perfect balance between nurturer and scientist. As the two leads build a relationship Akerlie eats up every scene she is in with an effortless emotion that feels both believable and terrifying. Not scary in a way that we fear for her, but rather terrifying in that most of us have loved something in someone else, or something in ourselves that feels beyond our control. Its this out of control feeling that makes love so intoxicating but also that makes personal growth so important. We are humans because we take those risks and Mortal absolutely gets that.

Courtesy of 42 Productions

Mortal has a strong sense of what it is, even if how it comes across is not perfect. It is a super hero story. That is true. However it feels like a super hero story for 2020. In as much as nothing about 2020 has felt cut and dry. Even when the good guys win, it feels like losing. As a result the movie feels more complex. It’s ending certainly is. The final fifteen minutes feel closer akin to Brightburn which I mentioned earlier. It utilizes news footage in a similar way and does not shy away from presenting our lead character as a flawed hero. It sure seems like all of our heroes are flawed lately. In that way Mortal is a movie for today you should watch it today as it is already out in theatres and on VOD


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