MORTAL movie poster | ©2020 Saban Films

MORTAL movie poster | ©2020 Saban Films

Rating: R
Stars: Nat Wolff, Iben Akerlie, Per Frisch, Priyanka Bose, Arthur Hakalahti, Per Egil Aske
Writers: Andre Ovredal & Norman Lesperance & Geoff Bussetil, story by Andre Ovredal
Director: Andre Ovredal
Distributor: Saban Films
Release Date: November 9, 2020

MORTAL begins with the definition of its title as “a human being.” We then meet Eric Bergland (Nat Wolff), a young man who certainly thinks of himself as a human being, though he may be in the process of becoming something a bit other.

We see some gorgeous Norwegian mountain landscapes before zeroing in on Eric, who is camped out in a grimy tent in the forest. Eric has a leg injury. He goes to sleep, and wakes in the morning to find that the trees in the clearing around him have burned. Eric’s leg is worse, but is otherwise unscathed.

Eric limps into the nearest town, evidently a resort by a mountain lake. He raids a doctor’s office for disinfectant, bandages, and lollipops. Walking away through a field, Eric is accosted by several local youths. One of them, Ole (Arthur Hakalahti), knocks Eric down. In English, Eric warns Ole not to touch him again. Even though Eric doesn’t seem to do anything, this works out badly for Ole.

We are then introduced to Christine Aas (Iben Akerlie), a young psychotherapist distraught over a patient’s suicide. Local sheriff Henrik (Per Frisch) asks her to talk to the silent stranger – Eric – the cops have picked up in connection with Ole’s death.

Christine gradually gets Eric to open up a little. He’s American, originally in Norway to investigate his family roots and visit relatives on a farm. The place caught fire while Eric was there, killing five people. He’s the lone survivor. We learn that whenever Eric gets upset or alarmed, electrical equipment goes haywire and walls start to melt, but this has only been happening since he went to the farm.

In the broadest strokes, we can guess where this is going. What’s most appealing about MORTAL is that director Andre Ovredal, who also crafted the story and cowrote the screenplay with Norman Lesperance & Geoff Bussetil, has some intriguing, novel notions of mythos. Ovredal certainly has an eye for natural beauty. Every time he shows us an outdoor vista, we feel that we are in, as the expression goes, God’s country (MORTAL was shot in Norway and the Czech Republic).

If MORTAL were a TV series, this would be a good first installment. However, the filmmakers take so much time to get through each set piece, handsome as these are, that the end of the movie essentially confirms what has been made clear to us much earlier in the running time.

Furthermore, the main antagonist in MORTAL is someone who is worried about worldwide reaction to what we’re finding out about Eric. If the past few years have taught us nothing else, it’s that people tend to select which facts they want to believe, even when there’s far more evidence than anybody amasses over the course of the story. We understand other characters’ fears about structural damage to bridges and buildings, but this particular concern seems out of step with how human beings react to news.

Wolff is convincing as the confused, haunted protagonist, and Akerlie is charming as his compassionate ally. As the level-headed sheriff, Frisch feels like someone who has been working a hard job his whole life.

MORTAL has engaging leads and a compelling premise. The movie just takes so long to set things up that there’s little room to build on what makes it unique.

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