Managing to pre-empt the resurgence of Viking mythology in popular culture as seen in Marvel’s Thor series or the T.V show Vikings, Berserker (2004) seems perfectly placed to be revisited as a B-movie, schlock filled cult classic. Despite the early scenes showing some promise, however, the Highlander-esque plot and poor production values will see the film remain in obscurity.
Berserker follows a sibling rivalry, one complicated by the intervention of their power-hungry and maniacal father (Patrick Bergin) and curses from Norse God, Odin. The protagonist here is Barek (Paul Johansson), the good half of the sibling rivalry and his father’s choice to succeed his fast growing Viking Empire. His counterpoint is Boar (Craig Sheffer) who, having been cursed by Odin, lives a cannibalistic life on the outskirts of humanity. When their father betrays Odin, the most powerful of the Norse gods, Barek is condemned to live the same cursed life as his brother.
At this point an unexpected and somewhat jarring change of setting occurs and anything interesting that the film had attempted to build disappears. The battle between siblings is nicely offset by the ruthlessness of their father’s attempts to gain power. This adds a certain greyness to the plot. Barek’s loyalty to his father, and conversely Boar’s disobedience, are not as clear-cut in the shadow of such hysteria. This is tossed aside as the movie progresses for a much more predictable good vs evil story, where Barek and Boar are unquestionably opposed in this eternal battle.
Not only is the film more morally interesting in the beginning, it is also structurally tighter and much better paced. After the plot reaches its most tumultuous moment everything changes. A meandering love affair with Brumhilda is introduced and this takes away what little zip the plot did have. All the while the film threatens to go completely over-the-top crazy yet it never quite reaches the level that it seems to aspire to. Apart from one or two moments the level of gore and violence is nowhere near the level expected of an 18-rated B-movie (the film does appear to have since been reclassified as a 15, as the cover photograph at the top of the post indicates) . In addition, the various time periods, dreams and realms that appear in the film each come with their own set of visual effects, and this comes across as cheap. It tends to make things look like an early 90’s music video; not great for a film produced in 2004.
The acting is adequate for the level of production. None of the performers ham it up too much, and none are so terrible as to stand out, with the possible exception of the father king. Patrick Bergin plays the character of Thorsson with a level of hysteria I did not expect. Every line is shouted; nothing is at normal register, either an accusation or protestation. Thankfully the character’s screen time is limited and the stoic Barek and Craig Sheffer’s best Christopher Lambertz impression as Boar, hit closer to the right notes.
The result is an underwhelming Viking action film. The box art had me excited for epic Viking battles with invincible hell’s warriors, not the convoluted mess that actually made it to the final edit. Not enough gore for the kind of audience likely to be drawn in by the premise, and not enough story or character to make up for that failing.
Director: Paul Matthews
Running Time: 85 minutes