Ever seen someone use a caged severed head as a weapon? It’s surprisingly effective. Towards the end of David L.G. Hughes’ second feature film, should-be-Queen Helle (Anna Demetriou) finds out how effective when she faces off against Bard (Timo Nieminen) as Of Gods and Warriors reaches its ending. Helle is the daughter of the last king, who was tricked by his brother Bard into swapping the new born princess into his care. Bard raised her, and now plans to use her to acquire the throne for himself, guided by the mischievous hand of Loki. It risks backfiring though when Helle, herself guided by Odin, discovers the truth.
There is no shortage of pseudo-historical Viking movies out there, and this one punches above its weight in comparison to many. Also known as Viking Destiny, Of Gods and Warriors impressively manages to throw in the odd surprise within its tried and tested format. The storyline has got plenty of meaty sub-plots on its bones but never feels weighed down. Hughes gets the pacing spot on to ensure that his movie never drags nor feels cut short, with his own creativity shining through for good measure. The only real frustration is the kraken; you only ever hear it, never seeing so much as a hint. It’s cruel to tease your audience with a kraken and not deliver.
Demetriou is solid in the leading role. Helle risks being a bit of a carboard cut-out, but the up-and-coming actress giving a committed and convincing performance to stop that from happening. The same goes for Nieminen as Bard, who as the film progresses seems increasingly cruel and desperate. Terence Stamp is ever watchable as Odin, while his counterpart Loki (Murray McArthur) risks being over-the-top but just about keeps it as believable as a mythical deity can be.
The female empowerment message carried by Helle can feel occasionally forced, rather than allowing to always carry naturally throughout the story. That being said, perhaps it is unfair to bemoan a bloody Viking fantasy as lacking subtlety. Hughes’ film is at its strongest when it’s the most brutal, be it another wince-inducing death or a simple battle brawl.
The introduction of the forest travellers also feels a bit unnecessary and the movie would feel a lot simpler without the distraction they pose, although it’s far from a chronic flaw. Of Gods and Monsters is unlikely to trigger rapturous applause from whoever is watching, but is more than satisfying and sees a strong cast work their magic.
VIKING DESTINY / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: DAVID L.G. HUGHES / SCREENPLAY: DAVID L.G. HUGHES / STARRING: ANNA DEMETRIOU, TIMO NIEMINEN, TERENCE STAMP, MURRAY MCARTHUR, IAN BEATTIE / RELEASE DATE: JULY 26TH