With the release of The Northman, Robert Eggers has once again demonstrated his amazing attention to detail for historical accuracy, while also delivering a brutally violent but brilliant story. The Witch, The Lighthouse, and The Northman are all very different stories, but there’s a common theme of raw, unfiltered experience, particularly through the lens of history.
Each of them is a classic in their own right. But in the interest of obsessive horror fandom, we thought it would be fun to compare and contrast all three movies and determine an objective winner (as objective as possible that is). We’ll be comparing them over seven rounds in seven different categories!
Round I – Characters
On the surface, it’s tempting to give this to Northman and disqualify Lighthouse due to the sheer disparity in number of characters, but each movie deserves to be judged fairly. That said, neither character in The Lighthouse really goes through any arc, it’s more about the atmosphere and descent into madness.
The Witch does a great job of displaying a family tormented by both witchcraft and the struggles of just trying to survive on their own. The parents are obviously flawed, but you get the sense that they’re trying their best. Thomasin goes through what could be considered a screwed up coming of age arc. While she does end up having to kill her mom in self-defense, she gets something of a “happy” ending when she joins the coven.
But when it comes to an ensemble of well-rounded characters who have fascinating and compelling arcs, none come close to The Northman. Amleth goes from betrayed kid to brutal berserker to man on a mission with a sense of destiny. Olga goes on a similar journey of discovering her destiny in the greater Norse mythology.
But what really wins this movie the round is that the “villains” are three dimensional and you very much understand where they’re coming from. After all, nothing Fjölnir does is that different from what Amleth did to other people.
Round I Winner – The Northman
Round II – Story
Both The Witch and The Lighthouse are amazing in their sense of overall atmosphere, but their narratives themselves aren’t particularly complex. The Northman however is an epic in every sense of the word. It draws elements from Norse mythology, as well as the original story that inspired Shakespeare’s “Hamlet”.
To call it just a revenge story severely underestimates just how rich this movie really is. It’s infused with rich mythology, themes of family, honor, betrayal, and loyalty. We see the revenge story sure, but there’s so much more going on in terms of subplots and twists and turns (which we won’t dare spoil here). And all the while doesn’t shy away from the nastiness that comes with medieval history. It’s an epic in every sense of the word.
Round II Winner – The Northman
Round III – Style/Tone
Robert Eggers brings a certain gritty brutality to all of his movies. The Lighthouse is certainly the most surreal, The Northman is the most intense, and The Witch is the most suspenseful. They all relish in the stylized directing choices, and they’re all superb at it. So to fairly judge this category, we need to look at which one made the most bold choices and ran with it.
The Northman has its share of Viking lore and keeps the fantasy elements very much on the fringe of the story and narrative. In many ways, it’s Eggers’ most grounded and straightforward movie, which is in no way a bad thing.
Both his previous films also do a great job of immersing themselves in the times they’re set, especially in terms of production design and dialogue. But we have to give the slight edge to The Witch. Mainly because of the way that the Shakespearean era dialogue just hits so right in a story set in 17th Century New England. We can almost imagine that this is the myth that the characters in “The Crucible” and telling each other.
Round III Winner – The Witch
Round IV – Technical Specs
This round is a bit of a shoe-in for The Lighthouse, but let’s first acknowledge the incredible production and art design that went into all three movies. Each of them recreates a foregone era from the past. But only The Lighthouse actually manages to look like a movie from the past.
In order to achieve the vintage black and white look, Eggers shot on double-X stock black and white, which requires far more light than is typical, even for 16mm or 35mm film. The result was having to use lights so bright that many crew members wore sunglasses, and this was all just so that the audience would be able to see the picture.
But it all works to create a movie that feels like it could have been made decades ago, and that’s not an easy feat to achieve. As previously mentioned, all three movies are brilliantly composed and crafted from a technical sense, but this one goes one step beyond.
Round IV Winner – The Lighthouse
Round V – Ideas/Themes
This is probably the hardest one to judge because all three movies have fascinating themes and motifs behind them. So we have to go with which one has the most interesting point to make. But again that’s debatable and this is why we said we’d be as objective as possible.
We get a good old fashioned Viking story with The Northman as it forces us to question whether vengeance or justice is worth it, especially when certain truths come out. The Lighthouse not only tests our sanity, but makes us ponder our place in the world, as well as challenges our sense of priority in society and in our careers. While The Witch presents a sense of horror both externally and internally in a way that really works.
The duration of the movie deals with a Puritan family being tormented by some unseen supernatural force. But at the same time, the religious fanaticism is just as terrifying as it tore the family away from the community and now seeks to tear the family apart. We come to realize that even if the titular witch is real, this family’s fire and brimstone approach to religion is making them weaker and the witch is using it to her advantage.
Round V Winner – The Witch
Round VI – Historical Accuracy
This isn’t a category we normally feature in these comparison pieces, but it seemed fitting here. Eggers certainly did his research for each movie, down to the way in which the sets were built and constructed. So it’s impossible to pick one based on which was the most accurate. So we’re going to go with the one that presented the most historically accurate content, in terms of amount of details.
Again, this is a bit of a shoe-in, but it’s well deserved. The Lighthouse and The Witch give us a glimpse into two historical time periods, but The Northman just shows it off like nothing you’ve ever seen. It’s filled to the brim with Nordic customs and rituals from the time. And it never drags its runtime with exposition, it just shows us this society.
We get the ins and outs of their world, along with a massive heap of Norse mythology that enriches both the world and story. Ironically it’s the only movie of the three that qualifies as part fantasy, but it’s the one that manages to do the most world-building as well.
Round VI Winner – The Northman
Round VII – Suspense Building
In an exact opposite move of the last category, we’re going to have to disqualify The Northman from this round only because it’s more action/thriller than outright horror. So no offense, but this is strictly between The Witch and The Lighthouse.
Both films are masterclasses at building senses of dread and tension. The Witch builds a powder keg of anxiety and fear as it reaches its explosive end, resulting in ultimate breakdown of the family and Thomasin’s journey over to the dark side, so to speak.
But while The Witch builds suspense to a dark and twisted crescendo, The Lighthouse actually makes you feel like you’re losing your mind along with Robert Pattinson. You feel the sense of madness, and by the time the movie ends, you feel like you’ve been stranded there with them, and the grotesque, surreal events of the climax seem almost reasonable.
Round VII Winner – The Lighthouse
Overall Winner – The Northman
Eggers has clearly grown and evolved as a director with each movie, thus The Northman remains his most ambitious and ultimately his masterpiece!
Which movie did you like better? Let us know in the comments!