[Review] MORTAL: Dark, Entertaining Superhero Origin Story Delves into Scandinavian Mythology

Norwegian/U.S./U.K. production Mortal is a breathtaking origin story boasting engaging characters and performances, a wonderfully crafted story, rich visuals, and impressive special effects. Director André Øvredal (Troll Hunter, The Autopsy of Jane Doe, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark) returns to Scandivian mythology and crafts a dark take on a man coming to grips with his legacy of superheroic powers.

Eric (Nat Wolff) is an Norwegian American who is wandering through Norway, looking disheveled and committing crimes to get medical supplies that he needs. When a group of teenagers harass him, it leads to a dire warning from Eric that one teen chooses to challenge, resulting in the latter’s death. Sheriff Henrik (Per Frisch) arrests him for suspicion of murder and calls in psychologist Christine (Iben Akerlie), who has just lost a patient to suicide. The previously silent Eric begins communicating with Christine, but a team from the American Embassy led by Agent Cora Hathaway (Priyanka Bose) barges in with plans of their own for the stranger. Eric doesn’t handle stress well and that can result in fiery destruction, as these and other characters are soon to discover.

Mortal is best watched knowing as little as possible about the plot going in, so suffice it to say that Eric and Christine strike up a connection that puts both of them in peril, and that the deeper they dig to uncover the source of Eric’s powers, the further the story goes into Scandinavian mythology. The screenplay from Øvredal, Norman Lesperance, and Geoff Bussetil peels back its layers of mysteries slowly as it builds from one suspenseful set piece to another. It may be easy after a while to see where the story is headed regarding Eric’s legacy, but getting there is a thrilling experience. 

The three problems I have with Mortal are its ending, which will leave some viewers excited but that others might consider a letdown, its ultimate treatment of the Christine character, especially after the latter’s importance to advancing the element of uncovering Eric’s background, and the motivation of certain government entities. We know that shadowy American governmental forces are up to no good in just about every film genre, but a bit more back story regarding Agent Hathaway’s motivations would have been welcome. These misgivings are balanced out, however, by the cinematic scope of the film, with top-notch work from cinematographer Roman Osin (The Autopsy of Jane Doe and Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark), and a fine score by Marcus Paus, crackerjack special and visual effects. 

Wolff gives an interesting turn as Eric, investing his character with both confusion and curiosity about the changes he is undergoing. Akerlie is outstanding as Christine, who is going through trauma of her own while trying to help Eric control and understand what is happening to him. Frisch is also fine as a man in a position of power who tries to find the fairness in several situations.

Øvredal does a solid job at the helm, spending sufficient time on emotional drama and pacing the build-up of suspense well. With Mortal, he proves himself as solid of a superhero origin storyteller as he is a creator of gripping horror films. 

Superhero film fans, especially those who gravitate toward independent efforts and storytelling (2018’s Freaks comes to mind) over huge-budget CG-driven spectacles, should find plenty to enjoy with Mortal.  

Mortal, from Saban Films, is in Select Theaters + On Demand and Digital as of November 6, 2020. It will be available on Blu-Ray from November 10, 2020.

3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

Joseph Perry
Joseph Perry fell in love with horror films as a preschooler when he first saw the Gill-Man swim across the TV screen in "The Creature from The Black Lagoon" and Mothra battle Godzilla in "Godzilla Vs. The Thing.” His education in fright fare continued with TV series such as "The Twilight Zone" and "Outer Limits," along with legendary northern California horror host Bob Wilkins’ "Creature Features." His love for silver age and golden age comic books, including horror titles from Gold Key, Dell, and Marvel started around age 5.

He is a contributing writer for the "Phantom of the Movies VideoScope" and “Drive-In Asylum” print magazines and the websites Horror Fuel, Diabolique Magazine, The Scariest Things, B&S About Movies, and When It Was Cool. He is a co-host of the "Uphill Both Ways" pop culture nostalgia podcast and also writes for its website. Joseph occasionally proudly co-writes articles with his son Cohen Perry, who is a film critic in his own right.

A former northern Californian and Oregonian, Joseph has been teaching, writing, and living in South Korea since 2008.