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Mortal is 'the anti-Marvel' version of Thor, director André Øvredal says

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Nov 6, 2020, 3:53 PM EST (Updated)

What would happen if Thor — the Norse god with the power of thunder — existed in the real world? One very popular movie franchise posits that he would be hanging out with his pals Iron Man and Captain America, saving the world and partaking in spectacular battles. The new movie Mortal has things go very differently. If somebody with Thor’s immense powers was here on Earth, it would be terrifying.

“I wanted to take it a little bit back from Marvel and put it in a really grounded Norwegian world,” Norwegian director André Øvredal, who also directed the cult classic Trollhunter and last year’s Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, tells SYFY WIRE. “We can’t fight with Marvel’s scale and budget because they do amazing things, so we had to do the opposite, we had to make it a very intimate movie about some characters on a journey.”

Rather than a quip-filled superhero blockbuster, Mortal’s journey is a harrowing one. Nat Wolff stars as Eric, an American with Norwegian heritage who has been keeping to himself in the woods outside a small Nordic town for two years after a horrible accident killed the family he was visiting. Eric, it would seem, is the descendent of Thor, but rather than slick armor and a cool winged helmet, Eric has gnarly burns over large parts of his body — a consequence of the powers he can’t control. He’s a danger to himself, and as the events of the film show, those around him, too. 

“I wanted him to be a consequence of the powers. I wanted him to have burns, to be damaged by it — both psychologically and physically,” Øvredal says. “I wanted there to be consequences of having these sorts of powers.”

Mortal, which Øvredal says was “consciously constructed to specifically be the anti-Marvel,” likely won’t be everybody’s cup of tea — especially the ending, which the director, who also co-wrote the film, wanted to be divisive. But, it’s a very Norwegian movie.  

“The Nordic mythology is part of any Norwegian’s life whether you want it or not. But I wanted to modernize it and tell it in a setting that we hadn’t seen before and not really make it about the characters you expect,” Øvredal explains. It’s very much of a piece with Trollhunter, his 2010 mockumentary-style movie about people looking for trolls, a big part of Norwegian folklore. 

“I found Norwegian culture to be underutilized,” Øvredal says. “It’s kind of laughed at. The trolls were ridiculous when I made that movie. The trolls were just little things that you bought in a curio shop. But to be able to have the opportunity and be able to put that back out into the culture in a fun modern way is a luxury. It’s a privilege. So I wanted to use that opportunity again with Thor.”

In addition to being Norwegian in its inspiration, Mortal is also very Norwegian in its approach to storytelling and the sort of risks it can take, Øvredal explains, highlighting the ending (which we won’t spoil here other than to say he’s not kidding when he says it’s intentionally divisive).  

“I wanted to go out with a bang and twist everything upside down, but that might not necessarily be something when you’re dealing with a $50 million or above budget, that you can do. It’s too risky. I appreciate that and totally get that, but it’s something that I can do with this movie and something I can do with Trollhunter,” he says.  

“The European way of making movies is a little bit more atmospheric. It’s a little bit less logical. The American storytelling is more logical, it’s more based on human emotions, it’s based on plot development and it’s storytelling at its most core way,” Øvredal continues. “I love that. I love American movies. I grew up on them, and they’re the reason I even make movies. For me, to be able to play in both worlds is a luxury.” 

And as Mortal shows, Øvredal sure seems to be having a better time playing in both worlds than Eric does, caught between the powers of the gods and the frailty of mortal existence. 

Mortal is now playing in select theaters and is available on VOD.