#Vikings: The #Berserkers (2014) – A Review of Sorts #Movies

A random corvid does not Odin’s presence betoken. In the earliest scene where a young man has his heart cut out and held up to the camera, the scene cuts to a close-up of a jackdaw. I guess the producers could not afford a raven, or thought that we would not notice the difference. Sadly this omen is not a good one for the movie.

The date is 835AD and a fearsome, extremist Viking faction called ‘The Berserkers’ has arrived in Saxon England intent upon carnage, pillage, and probably sackage, sockage and tillage too. They capture some Saxons and start a ritual man-hunt to honour Odin, or something like that anyway. It’s a chase film with the Saxons being pursued through the woods by the vicious Vikings. There’s a lot of fighting, not a lot of dialogue and some gratuitous drug-taking by the Vikings to induce frenzy, just like Samuel Ødman suggested berserkers did, based on Siberian shamanic practice. Sadly, there is no historical evidence for this practice, but, hey, this film should not be judged on its historical accuracy. I could go on and on about that, and it would get tedious really quickly.

Vikings: The Berserkers is advertised as the ‘Viking Hunger Games’ and really needs to be considered as a fantasy film with a thin veneer of Vikingness. It revolves around the Berserkers and their five victims, two women and three men. After a large group of Saxons have been captured, five are chosen for the ritual hunt. Their hearts will be cut out and presented to the völva whose penchant for extreme make-up knows no bounds. Her appearance made me think more of Mad Max than Viking Age Scandinavia. The Berserkers also adopt whiteface make-up for the hunt. They froth at the mouth, wear animal skins and are bestial in nature. To be honest, they remind me more of Celtic Frost than real Vikings but we’ll let that slide for now.

The Saxon characters are more diverse than the Vikings. There is the cowardly male, the needy female, the heroic but slightly shrill monk, the young male with a lot of growing to do during the film, and the pretty and feisty female, plus a cage full of children. Guess which ones die and which survive.

I guess that sets the scene enough. So, how was the film? Well, I found it virtually impossible to engage with any of the characters. I cheered neither for the Saxons nor for the Vikings. Something was really lacking. Perhaps I have just watched too many films like this to care about the characters any more. The actors seemed competent enough. The script was ok with a few holes where characters suddenly knew things, such as that the Vikings could not follow their scent if they covered their faces in blood. The cinematography, and the landscape in which the film was shot were probably the best bits about the film, although there were a couple of odd moments with some weird ‘bloom’ in the lighting. I wonder if those were artefacts of my DVD. I did rather like the moment where the children in the cage ate the mushrooms and turned into berserkers themselves. I wonder if they needed counselling for biting Vikings’ throats out afterwards. That moment made me laugh a little because it seemed a tad OTT and silly. Overall, I was not particularly taken with this film. It was ok, but unengaging. Not bad in the way that some of the other films I have written about on here were bad, but not exciting enough to make me want to watch it again. I can see where it would appeal to some, and it might easily be the focus of a student Viking film night with snacks, beer, and friends to marvel at it together, but it’s not one for the lone viewer or a couple’s night in.

About ruarigh

Historical consultant, archaeologist and peripatetic berserkerologist. My PhD was a cognitive analysis and textual archaeology of the Old Norse berserkr in popular culture from the early medieval period to the present day.
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