What if you woke up one day with the powers of a god...
...What if all the mythos and bedtime stories you were told as a child were real? In the age of superhero films such as Thor: Ragnarok and Batman v Superman, writer/director André Øvredal, along with writers Norman Lesperance and Geoff Bussetil, strikes his own unique vision of a hero’s journey with Mortal.
Young American Eric (Nat Wolff) is on the run in Norway. The opening scenes give us his sense of panic and reliance on near-feral instincts, even if we don’t yet know what it is he’s running from. With very little dialogue to go on, Wolff articulates his struggle for survival to us through a more physical performance.
He is soon discovered by Christine (Iben Akerlie), a woman tasked with finding out more about this mysterious person who seems to exhibit otherworldly abilities. Eric’s powers fluctuate depending on his emotions in a way that calls back to an X-Men mutant discovering their powers for the first time. The connection to this comic book and the subsequent forms of media had me already intrigued about the main drive behind Mortal: how and why are Eric’s powers caused?
The film really begins to take off as we watch Christine and Eric connect and bond with one another as they journey across Norway. The beautiful, sweeping shots of the towns and countryside from cinematographer Roman Osin make the setting feel like a character in its own right. But Eric and Christine are not destined for a peaceful journey. As anyone knows, those with abilities are often in the crosshairs. Nowhere is that made clearer than through Priyanka Bose’s character, Hathaway, who chases the pair on their travels. Her performance is strong, and I often found myself wondering what was going through her mind at certain moments.
The chemistry between Akerlie and Wolff is what makes the relationship between Eric and Christine believable. Akerlie is the heart of the movie, acting as our eyes throughout. We see her bond with and grow to care for this man with whom she may not have otherwise interacted, and there are moments where we feel her concern and wonderment. Wolff, meanwhile, plays Eric as more of a silent blank slate. The moments we feel from him are ones of heightened panic and anxiety, aided along by Øvredal’s claustrophobic method of shooting.
Of course, as we have seen in Øvredal’s previous films like Trollhunter and Autopsy of Jane Doe, he is able to present even his villains through a morally grey lens. His directing and cinematic style is presented full force in this film, from moments of humanity between characters to sweeping action sequences. The visual effects and practical work (done by an impressive 126-person team) were amazing, from the burns that litter Eric’s body to the lightning effects, especially in the bridge sequence.
Øvredal builds Mortal’s story slowly but it by no means feels like a slog to watch. In fact, with each passing minute you may find yourself falling more and more into the mystery and story that begins to unfold. I thought I knew where each turn would go but I always found myself surprised. I enjoyed having my predictions foiled especially toward the end when the truth behind Eric’s abilities is revealed through a twist that left me wanting more. It threw everything I had seen prior on its head and shifted the narrative from a hero’s origin closer instead to what is perhaps a villain’s.
I liken this film to Chronicle in a way. While each tells a different tale in a different style and one has a pair in place of a trio, they are both crafted with love and care not just for the action sequences and special effects but for the story they try to tell. Mortal is a modern superhero film that is worth the watch. Long after the credits rolled, I found myself wanting more and wanting to go back and rewatch it. As with most entries in the superhero genre, the possibilities for where the story could go in any potential Mortal sequel are endless, and I look forward to seeing that future.
Mortal comes to select theaters, VOD and digital on November 6th from Saban Films.
By Kalani Landgraf