Don’t expect a wild canine wearing a horned helmet. The Viking Wolf of this Netflix thriller-horror entry is more a figure from Scandinavian mythic tradition, that is until townspeople start getting ripped apart by an unseen force that leaves distinctive claw marks behind. And when the new police chief in town discovers a link between the violence and her daughter’s increasingly odd behavior, it’s time to bring in some reinforcements in the hope of solving the case.
VIKING WOLF: STREAM IT OR SKIP IT?
The Gist: A veteran big city police officer moves with her children to a small town after a family tragedy, marries an easygoing local and becomes the chief of police just as a spate of grisly murders strikes fear into the area. She’s dedicated to finding the killer and putting a stop to the violence, but her work has to share space with the difficulties in her personal life, especially her increasingly tense relationship with her teenage daughter. There’s local prejudice against the techniques of modern policing to navigate, too, as well as a healthy allowance for folklore and myth that as an outsider she neither fully understands nor wishes to indulge. Can this cop crack the case before it encroaches even further into the new life she’s built?
If you think that paragraph sounds like the log line to the latest Nordic Noir murder drama to hit the streaming platforms, then you’ll also understand where Viking Wolf is coming from, since it takes those ingredients and tosses in its own twist of horror. But since that genre doesn’t really make its presence felt until later in the film, what mostly exists here are the typical building blocks of series like The Valhalla Murders or Outlier.
Not that that’s a bad thing. After a brief introduction that explores the origins of the myth from which its title is derived, Viking Wolf wastes no time dropping Thale (Elli Muller Osborne) into the center of a vicious attack on a group of teens in the deep forests of Norway’s Telemark region. Liv (Liv Mjones), Thale’s mom and the chief of police, is tasked with determining if it’s a wolf doing the attacking, and if so why – the prevailing wisdom is that wolves don’t make humans their next meal – but Liv gets more than she bargained for when a self-described werewolf hunter shows up and gifts her a carton of handmade silver bullets. With the help of William (Arthur Hakalahti), a veterinarian whose modern methods clash with the elements of myth and folklore at work in the killings, Liv has to figure out the truth while also trying to reconnect with and ultimately protect her oldest daughter from what’s alive and hungry in their new town.
What Movies Will It Remind You Of? Viking Wolf co-writer Espen Aukan also helped pen Troll, an entertaining take on ancient folklore and monster movies that dropped on Netflix in 2022. And there are more than a few references in this Wolf to the 1981 horror comedy classic American Werewolf in London, especially in its debt to Rick Baker’s transformational makeup effects.
Performance Worth Watching: Elli Muller Osborne is sure to emphasize Thale’s city kid backbone whenever the local bullies start pushing her around, and Osborne handles her character’s descent into wolfbit madness well, too, alternating between personal confusion and the outward expression of typical teenage indifference.
Memorable Dialogue: “Is the deputy familiar with the term ‘lycanthrope’?” Leave it to Lars (Stale Bjornhaug), a cantankerous, one-armed old coot who shows up in his camper van midway through Viking Wolf to enliven the proceedings with bald-faced warnings about werewolves. “That’s what we…you are chasing. It’s a warg. Wolf. A werewolf.”
Sex and Skin: None, unless you’re talking about human flesh getting ripped apart by giant wolf claws.
Our Take: As Viking Wolf progresses, Lars has a few other interesting tidbits to offer about lycanthrope lore as it relates to the film’s storyline. It’s pretty typical for werewolf stuff to relate back to some kind of long ago curse, right? The ancient certainty of a particular candidate, who finally transforms when the time is right and the moon is full. But here, instead of a curse, Lars goes on about a “poison,” an “infection that must be stopped before it spreads,” and God help you if the bloodline isn’t severed in time. It’s an interesting wrinkle in the narrative that combines a modern understanding of communicable disease with foggier notions of oral tradition and Nordic folklore, and though Viking Wolf doesn’t fully explore this angle, it does add some tantalizing specifics to its twist on the usual string of werewolf facts and figures.
By the time the blood really starts to flow – soon enough, it becomes clear that Lars’s warnings about severing the bloodline have gone decidedly unheeded – you kind of wish it would’ve happened sooner, since the pace of Viking Wolf has a tendency to drag. But it does develop an ominous mood that hangs over the proceedings from the word go, and it utilizes the mystery and threat of the surrounding forest well. What’s out there? Will our modern conveniences and armaments protect us? And how much of the myths we conjure to explain what we don’t understand are born in long-forgotten truths? Viking Wolf is a moody and slow burn. But like the Nordic Noir genre it seems to draw from, it finds gripping moments in all of that stillness.
Our Call: STREAM IT. Viking Wolf wraps its Nordic Noir structure in the grisly frights of the horror genre, and presents some intriguing prospects about what truths exist in the mists of folkloric tradition.
Johnny Loftus is an independent writer and editor living at large in Chicagoland. His work has appeared in The Village Voice, All Music Guide, Pitchfork Media, and Nicki Swift. Follow him on Twitter: @glennganges