A couple of Norwegian films amassed strong word of mouth at this year’s Fantastic Fest, the more popular of the two being of course Detective Downs, the hardboiled noir about a detective with Down’s Syndrome. Ragnorak was the second title that was being buzzed about, an adventure film that seemed quite unlike anything else that was playing at the fest.
Sigurd Svendsen is an architect working at a museum on an enormous find of an ancient Viking ship, the oldest yet found. Despite his boss' insistence that he find something of historical significance he's had no real revelations, except for the runes that seem to point towards the myth of Ragnarok. The museum’s investors balk at their wasted money and pull their funding, leaving Sigurd embarrassed and in danger of a demotion. He decides to prove them all wrong and do the dirty work himself, setting off to prove that the Vikings traveled further north than anyone believed. Since he’s a single parent with two young kids he does the responsible thing and takes them along for the adventure, the way you do when you go far off into uncharted wilderness.
With a couple of archaeologist friends and a guide they set off on their journey, finally reaching their destination and finding the very Viking remains they had hoped to find. Overjoyed at this tremendous find they don’t realize that the place they’re looting is actually a graveyard, and that whatever killed all these people is still here, and still hungry.
Ragnarok has described as a Norwegian Jurassic Park and that’s a fair assessment. It’s got the giant CGI monster, the kids (with parental issues) in peril, wonderful location shots that actually put Jurassic Park’s to shame. It’s got everything but the thrill and feel of an adventure film.
Chalk it up to pacing issues. Thrilling events certainly take place, scenes where you’re supposed to feel scared for the character’s safety and wonder how they can get out of their predicaments, but it all falls flat. The kids are trapped in a vault and almost dragged into the water, little by little, but there’s no progression of events that leads to their escape. They all struggle and struggle and they get out. Even a scene where the actors are actually dangling hundreds of feet on a wire above a river isn’t particularly moving.
Perhaps it’s Sigurd himself, who may be an archaeologist but is no Doctor Jones. He seems excited by his finds but it doesn’t seem like this is really his obsession, his reason for living. Not even his kids feel like that. It doesn't help that the other characters are barebones and that there are not one but two Belloqs among them, one turning greedy seemingly out of nowhere for the same of a twist.
Ragnorak is certainly light and family friendly - in a festival full of sadomasochism, murder, and organ thieves, it was a fun change of pace- but there’s just not much to it. Also let me be the first to warn you that Ragnorak does not concern the end of the world, despite what the name implies. There’s no struggle as big or as exciting as that. It’s really just a giant monster movie with a larger than life title, and for some that may be enough.