Seeing where the current state of cinema (especially mainstream cinema) is, who exactly is still yearning for more movies about mysterious superpowers and the attempt to harness them? Yet no matter what, whoever is out there, André Øvredal’s Norwegian fantasy film Mortal aims to please you. In fact, it’s so eager to be popular that its protagonist is even an American, albeit of Norwegian heritage. (All of the other major characters are local, but most of the dialogue is in English.)
We first see the aforementioned protagonist, Eric Bergland (Nat Wolff), wandering through the woods looking like a homeless drifter; he’s returned to his ancestral country to look for relatives. But it soon emerges that he was somehow responsible, three years earlier, for a fire that killed five people. By the time that pinch of exposition has been stated, we’ve already seen trees crackle and glow around him, and noticed that one of Eric’s legs looks blackened and blistered. And at the same time, he seems to be going through the standard-issue anxiety that’s usually experienced by on-screen vessels of undefined mystical abilities. (This involves a large amount of generic hesitancy mixed with an instinctive suspicion of everyone with whom he comes in contact with.)
Still though, this movie, in its heapingly bland ways, needs Eric to form some kind of an alliance with someone. So after he accidentally kills an obnoxious teenager who was harassing him, the police request that he be examined by a psychologist. He’s paired with the distraught Christine (Iben Akerlie), for some reason, despite her still-fresh guilt regarding another patient of hers who just committed suicide (but who’s completely forgotten about once that backstory is flimsily established).
In broad theory, Eric and Christine’s tentative relationship, as they set out to investigate the farmhouse where the earlier tragedy occurred, would form the narrative’s spine. In actuality, both of them are so devoid of personality that one begins to wonder whether Eric’s mystical powers might be an uncanny ability to absorb and kill anything possibly interesting within a one-hundred-yard radius. Certainly, if that was ultimately the case, it would be less of a cliché than what we actually get, which is just another guy striking poses with his extended arms while CGI lightning bolts shoot from or to his fingertips.
No, he’s not related to Storm, but the fact that the film takes place in Norway serves as an obvious tipoff, as does the title. But it’s still kind of both a little sad and a lot hilarious when Mortal arrives at its big finish, and does in fact prove to be the origin story of a character we’ve all not only heard of, but have seen in massive theaters quite frequently in recent years. Wolff, given virtually nothing to work with, never figures out what to do with Eric, resorting to an all-purpose glare that more often just makes him look constipated than anything else. Akerlie turns the concern meter up to about a five-and-a-half early on, and just leaves it there for the rest of the movie. All while this is happening there’s some sort of government figure (Priyanka Bose) pursuing them, but her intentions never get clearly defined in the slightest until it’s time for her to “unexpectedly” rile things up in the final minutes — which you can tell is about to happen because the tone abruptly becomes all smiles and overtly sunny. Øvredal might seemingly get credit for an “original story,” but every single element here has been borrowed, and nothing else of note is really left. If a movie was as trite, bland, and flavorless as gelatin, it would probably be Mortal.
Mortal is available on VOD