MORTAL is the latest film from writer/director André Øvredal (Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark) which tells the origin story of a young man who discovers he has God-like powers. The film stars Nat Wolff (Body Cam), Iben Akerlie (Lake of Death), Per Egil Aske (Tunnelen), and Priyanka Bose (Lion).
To best describe the plot of MORTAL, I’ll turn to the official synopsis: “A sleepy Norwegian town erupts after an American backpacker, Eric, is arrested. Witnesses claim a teen died after touching the stranger, and that he inexplicably started a fire that engulfed a farm. He warns a psychologist, Christine, that he has supernatural powers, and that anyone who gets too close to him dies. Is Eric a liar, a freak of nature, an angry god? Determined to find the truth, Christine draws nearer, and what she finds is beyond her wildest imaginings…”
Leading the film is actor Nat Wolff who plays the role of Eric. From the get-go, it’s clear that whatever is going on with Eric is rather serious as we see him disheveled and ragged leaving the forest where he’s lived and scourging for food at a nearby town. From this point on, the viewer is taken on a journey as we learn what has afflicted Eric and where his super powers came from. Wolff gives one hell of a performance, tapping into an emotional range that makes it easy for the audience to sympathize with him. Starring opposite of him is Iben Akerline who plays Christine, a psychologist who ends up helping Eric through this journey while also doing what she can to protect him. Akerline’s performance fell flat for me, especially up against Wolff’s powerhouse performance. I had a tough time believing she would risk it all to help this person having only known him for just a brief amount of time. That said, considering where this film goes, and the severity of the circumstances they both find themselves in, I guess some could argue it’s not to out realm of possibilities. I just think the performance would have landed better had Wolff had a stronger scene partner.
Two characters I wish we got to see more of were that of Hathaway (played by Priyanka Bose) and Bjørn (played by Per Egil Aske). Hathaway is tasked with bringing Eric to the American Embassy once it’s revealed that he has super powers. However, Bose’s performance is unique because you can never really get a feel on what she’s thinking, except for when the finale hits. On the other end of the spectrum is that of Bjørn who almost turns into a disciple for Eric. What I like about Aske’s performance is he’s never over-the-top in his dedication towards Eric, but it’s quite clear that he’s devoted to the cause.
Though the film takes some time picking up speed, once it does it’s easy to get sucked into the narrative. I went into this film blind, choosing not to watch any trailers or clips, and I found that it paid off immensely. With Marvel movies taking over the superhero genre, it’s nice to see a more grounded story that focuses on one character’s transformation. However, the story is written in such a way that there are clues that help the viewer understand what’s taking place within Eric, before the big reveal. Because I didn’t know much about the film, I found myself constantly coming up with my own theories; however, once the film picked up speed, around the half way mark, and secrets were revealed, it kept me glued to the screen.
Like his previous films, André Øvredal once again features astounding visuals using both practical effects and CGI. Whether it’s a pivotal lightning storm or a helicopter falling from the sky (which gave me so much anxiety), the visuals are show-stopping. Øvredal carefully meshes up the realistic effects, such as the burns featured throughout Eric’s body, with the more otherworldly effects in a way that is seamless and believable. Roman Osin’s cinematography also helps in securing a look and feel that resonates to the viewer that a storm is brewing just off the horizon.
In all, MORTAL is an ambitious film that tells of a descendant story in a grounded but visually stimulating way. It features dazzling visuals and a strong and emotional performance by Nat Wolff. There are moments in which the film drags which may take viewers attention away, but once it picks up the pace and really digs into the themes of the film, I think viewers will find themselves much more engaged. Øvredal has further cracked open a superhero subgenre that makes me excited to see more films such as this. MORTAL is now in select theaters and On Demand and Digital and will be available on Blu-ray November 10, 2020.