It’s not often that a film takes what is popular and familiar down a completely different path, but that is exactly what “Mortal” does. Norwegian writer and director André Øvredal has produced works such as “Trollhunter” and “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark,” but “Mortal” provides a new spin on both ancient mythology and modern hero films as the protagonist, Eric, tries to find out why he suddenly has incredible, but raging, powers.
“Mortal” finds Norwegian-American Eric Bergland, played by Nat Wolff, on the run in Norway after a search into his heritage awakened dormant powers within him that caused the deaths of five people. After his capture by police, he meets Christine Aas, played by Iben Akerlie, a young psychologist who has just tragically lost a client. As the two begin to bond, Christine decides to help Eric discover the nature of his powers. Along the journey, the two are pursued by Per Frisch, who portrays Henrik, a local sheriff who also wants to help Eric on his path, and Priyanka Bose in the role of Hathaway, an American official determined to capture Eric and return him to America before he gets out of control.
Films about superhumans are highly popular, thanks to media giants such as Marvel Studios. What makes “Mortal'' unique is how Øvredal intentionally created this film to not be a Marvel look alike. He wanted to take the ancient Norse mythology of his homeland and reintroduce it to the present in a new way. Instead of wise-cracking, confident heroes, it is everyday people from a little town who are faced with events well beyond their dreams. Even Eric, the only godlike figure, is still just a man terrified by what is happening to him. While the popular heroes of today star in films with epic conflicts and glances at background characters, “Mortal” brings those same background characters to the forefront and considers how they would treat the appearance of a superhuman.
The film’s name itself points to the exploration of a greater theme. The opening scene presents a dictionary definition of the word “mortal,” simply stating it as “a human being.” While this might seem strange as Eric appears to be anything but mortal, a few key lines provide insight into Øvredal’s thinking. On one hand, Hathaway is afraid of Eric and his power and wants to “get him under control.” Henrik, on the other hand, believes not everything is meant to be understood and conquered. These two opposing views are at the forefront of the film, with those who want to control what they don’t understand, and those who understand that, good or bad, things happen that people will not always grasp. “Mortal” is not a film about life expectancy, but what it means to be human: to be limited beings in a world that often reaches past understanding.
One issue with the film is a lack of character development. Though Øvredal intends “Mortal” to be the start of a larger story, this flaw significantly hampers its ability to stand alone. For example, though Christine decides to stick with Eric, no insight is given into her personality and desires that drive her to do this. The romance that develops between the two feels very out of place as well. There is no lead up to it, nor explanation as to why they are falling in love. Then there is the character of Hathaway. She is the American agent tasked with bringing Eric in, but the “why” is missing here, too. She and her superiors are willing to go to great lengths to get Eric back, but there is nothing to explain their urgency. It leaves parts of the story feeling very hollow, and “Mortal” hurts for it.
Overall, “Mortal” is a breath of fresh air for superhero films. It deviates from the expected formula to create an original story that is down to earth, and the film is better for it. It is a unique and interesting film that promises something different and makes one excited for what is to come. The film does feature graphic images of wounds and some sequences of intense flashing, so viewers sensitive to this should be cautious.