Viking Wolf review: all bite, no larks

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When 17-year-old Thale witnesses a grisly tragedy in the woods, she becomes a key witness in an investigation which may or may not feature a wolf.

Viking Wolf, the Norwegian horror-thriller which arrived on Netflix earlier this week, certainly starts as you might expect. About 1000 years ago, you see, a bunch of Vikings raided Normandy (naughty), opened the monks’ “do not open” door (oops) and found what the film calls “a hound from Hell” (d’oh!). Unperturbed by the film’s description, the Vikings took the pup back to their boat, where it promptly ate them all, sailed to Norway and hopped off to live in the woods. Lovely, goofy stuff.

Oddly, it’s a tone which, unlike our friendly wolf-pup here, doesn’t quite survive the jump to the modern day. Instead, the inhabitants of the sleepy Norwegian town seem at turns miserable and very stressed out by the idea of a hellhound roaming the streets. Police Officer Liv Berg (Liv Mjönes) is having problems with her daughter Thale (Elli Rhiannon Müller Osborne), there’s some genuinely nasty bullying going on, and all the wolf’s victims are brutalised just a little too realistically.

All of which would be fine, I’d argue, if the film wasn’t called Viking Wolf. A title like that carries a certain weight of expectation the movie never quite lives up to.

That’s not to say it’s not possible to make a serious, dramatic and, crucially, scary werewolf movie. In fact, a lot of the individual elements of Viking Wolf are well-done: the CGI wolf of the title looks great, the performances are perfectly fine, and the central premise is one you could certainly have a lot of fun with. Unfortunately, it never quite pulls together. The characters feel a little two-dimensional, and there’s really no dramatic question beyond who is going to be murdered by a demon-wolf next.

As if to remind us of the film it could have been, about halfway through Viking Wolf Officer Berg receives a visitor at the police station. A grizzled, one-armed “werewolf hunter,” he swaggers in, chewing the scenery for all it’s worth, hands Liv a silver bullet, then leaves. It’s a wonderfully heightened bit of classic, campy horror, and it’s sadly at odds with much of the rest of the film.

There’s still plenty to appreciate in Viking Wolf, and from a technical standpoint its certainly an impressive feat for a film of this scale. It’s just a shame the story they tell with it never quite finds its groove.     

Viking Wolf is streaming now on Netflix.

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