There’s a charm and beauty to the stark Viking-themed horror film, DRAUG, where these gorgeous, dark forests seem to echo with the terror of old monsters. A Christian warrior with his foster daughter journey into the dark forests to seek out what happened to a Christian Missionary friend. The warrior, Hakon, is determined to seek the truth in the dark trees and the memories of violence, there. In his younger days, with his battle-scarred companions, he had been devout in the purging of the old, pagan ways of the people in this wood. His fosterling, Nanna, was adopted an orphan from this forested region. He raises her as a battle maiden, brave and ferocious as any young man. She journeys with him for her first mission. They stop off at an old ally’s mead hall. From there, they begin their quest for the truth about what happened to their friend.
Of course, things will not go well for this war party. After all, what is the forest but a place where old spirits and young bandits hide in the trees? Their initial contact with the old ways, with a diseased crone on a farm, hints at what is to come. Sickness, horror, and old injustices will rise from the dead to stop the brave and mighty Swedes. What begins as a tale of Viking saga and battle tactics and bloody swords becomes something else entirely the closer they get to their goal. When they do, eventually, fight their way into the deep forest, they encounter a monster unlike any from our time and myths. The Draug is a specific sort of creature, closely aligned with Nordic myths of the period, or perhaps the pre-Christian period shortly before the events of the film. It is a powerful and indomitable specter driven by anger and a hunger for revenge, defending a place or a horde, and stalking the darkness after nightfall in that dark, dark forest.
It is always interesting to see classic tropes of a specific genre, closely aligned with that genre, brought to bear on ideas that are not immediately familiar. By bringing a survival-haunting with hungry ghosts picking off the Swedes, one-by-one, the violence and brutality of their Viking culture is exposed. Their response to this horror is not precisely the way we would respond. And, Nanna’s actions can be confusing at first, because it takes some time to puzzle out one of the central mysteries of the film. The brutality of the ending is earned, and interesting. One thing I did enjoy about this take on the horror genre’s classic survival tropes was how unexpected death was. One never truly knew who would die next. In fact, one character dies relatively early in the film surprisingly, but in a perfectly plausible fashion. Fighting against supernatural monsters with nothing but steel and a lamp and a bit of nominal Christian faith was clearly not enough in these pagan woods. Survivors turn on each other, and turn on each other again, until all that’s left is the one who has no right to be alive, at all. This one knows it, too, waking up alone in a boat with all blood oaths repaid.
Like many independent horror films, it is not flawless. The pace can be a bit slow and uneven in places, and the acting is spotty. But, for a stressful afternoon, to relax in something both familiar and new, this little foreign horror film is a fine thing, enough. Historical interest for the casual viewer is maintained by period accurate tools and techniques, and a good depiction of trained Viking warriors using tactics and skill to survive an assault by a much larger force of more irregular fighters. The monster is perhaps not as scary as it could be, and there are parts of the film that are as predictable as the darkness falling. For what it is, I found it distracting enough and pleasing enough.
(We aren’t trying to be reviewing movies and movies, out here, but we are deep in the weeds of production of our first anthology, and I know we will have more beautiful books to discuss, very soon.)