I’ve started watching Game of Thrones again recently — just to see if season eight is as bad as the internet insists it is. I’m only on Season Four so it’s too early to tell — so I felt absolutely in the right frame of mind to watch this, Robert Eggers’ latest effort following an acclaimed and inventive start with The Lighthouse and The Witch. He’s maintained his distance from the tried and obvious path with The Northman.

This is a historic nordic-epic based on the story of the likely fictional 10th century Viking Prince Amleth, which would become the basis of Hamlet. Prince Amleth is on the verge of becoming a man when his father (Ethan Hawke) is brutally murdered by his uncle (Claes Bang), who kidnaps the boy’s mother (Nicole Kidman). Two decades later, Amleth (Alexander Skarsgård) is now a Viking berserker who raids Slavic villages. He soon meets a seeress (Björk) who reminds him of his vow — save his mother, kill his uncle, avenge his father. So with the help of Olga (Anya Taylor Joy), off he goes to do that.

And honestly, that’s 80% of the movie. Throw in some mysticism and prophecies and you’ve got the other 20%. Simplified like this, though, and it probably sounds a bit like the Sword and Sorcery movies from the 80s I enjoyed, like Conan, and Flesh + Blood. But that would do it a disservice.

Instead, it’s a brutal, and one would imagine accurate, portrayal of Viking life if you discount all the sorcery stuff. With all those swords getting thrown around, sooner or later people are going to start getting hurt. Amleth as a berserker is a terrifying sight, surrounded by other terrifying sights, as he and his buddies plunder a Slavic village for no other obvious reason than they can and it was in their way. Our heroes are seen here butchering villagers, burning women and children, branding others to put into slavery.

Any heroes here, though, are of the anti variety. If you’re in this movie, you’re going to do some deplorable stuff in a day that would keep you occupied on a therapist couch for a lifetime. But in these folklore tales, these are brave men doing brave deeds in the name of something, and everyone is the hero in their own story.

I really enjoyed this without ever loving it. It took me about twenty minutes to tune into the Scandanavian accents and names, and for spells I didn’t know what was going on or who anyone was until something clicked, roughly at the point that Amleth goes off to get his revenge, and I started to settle in and could make sense of it all.

Eggers co-wrote this with Icelandic writer and poet, Sjón, and they do an amazing job keeping this as authentic as it feels, resisting the temptation to dumb any of it down for its audience. They give you some work to do and the movie is all the better for it. Filmed mostly on the island of Ireland, the landscapes are beautiful and occasionally CGI enhanced to appear more Icelandic, and cinematographer Jarin Blaschke wrangles light in a quite incredible way.

It’s captivating, relentless, visceral, and a hundred other things but it’s maybe just a little bit too bleak, a little bit too lacking in good to be an absolute triumph, but it comes pretty close.