Nat Wolff as Eric
Priyanka Bose as Hathaway
Iben Akerlie as Christine
Arthur Hakalahti as Ole
Per Egil Aske as Bjørn
Co-Written and Directed by André Øvredal; Co-Written by Norman Lesperance and Geoff Bussetil
The superhero genre is one still dominated by the powerhouse Marvel Studios with their cinematic universe, with the DC Extended Universe slowly establishing itself as a worthy opponent, but while both have plenty of entertaining outings, only a handful have very original stories or takes on their characters. With his first superhero outing, Mortal, co-writer/director André Øvredal has offered his own twist on the popular genre and though it’s a story full of potential and intriguing world-building, its pacing and scripting do somewhat hamper the relatively interesting experience.
In this thriller, 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.
From the opening moments of the film, the story tries to establish some pathos for audiences with its central characters, as we’re treated to the fact that psychologist Christine is still reeling from a recent tragedy connected to her job and is struggling with continuing the work knowing she failed a patient, but despite having a 105-minute runtime, it feels like it’s rushing through this compelling character establishment in a race to get to the effects-heavy story of Eric.
The dialogue in the early minutes of the film keep Christine’s tragedy appropriately ambiguous but it also offers the first signs of how basic and droll the rest of it would be throughout the rest of the film. Though not every film can, or needs to, feature dialogue of a Shakespearian-level, the words spoken by the characters, namely Christine and mysterious US government agent Hathaway, feels so horribly underwritten and bland that it feels like a lack of intelligence on both the characters’ and writers’ parts, which comes as quite the surprise given how well-written Øvredal’s last written/directed effort, Trollhunter, was.
Much like the writing, the film features a number of questionable plot holes that, given the film’s attempts at being a more thoughtful and intelligent take on the superhero genre, prove to be kind of baffling and frustrating. Even just beginning with the simple nature of Eric escaping the US government’s custody, in which he then heads to Christine’s house despite nothing indicating he should know where she lives, there are quite a few moments that really don’t add up and create multiple logical questions that don’t feel well-thought out.
Despite this and occasional plot holes on display, there are actually a number of really great elements that go into the film’s story, namely the decision to root Eric’s powers and their source in Norse mythology, though taking a different, more grounded path than that of Marvel’s Thor. That’s not to disparage the the Chris Hemsworth-led depiction of the Norse God of Thunder and his world, but the path Øvredal takes in offering a modern-day and Earth-based approach to the gods of Norse lore feels far more compelling to watch than the Marvel series, especially with its traumatized protagonist struggling to get a handle on his powers and find the path he wants to take with them.
André Øvredal has absolutely killed it in the horror genre in the past few years with the incredible The Autopsy of Jane Doe and the old-fashioned and exciting adaptation of Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, and though is expansion to the superhero genre may suffer from some real writing and narrative flaws, there’s enough storytelling promise and stellar direction on display in Mortal that add up to an entertaining outing and leaves plenty of room for more intriguing tales in this new universe.