At this point, who is still yearning for more movies about mysterious superpowers and the attempt to harness them? Whoever they are, the Norwegian fantasy Mortal aims to please. In fact, it’s so eager to be popular that its protagonist, played by Nat “the brother who wasn’t in Hereditary” Wolff, is an American, albeit of Norwegian heritage. (All of the other major characters are local, but most of the dialogue is in English.) First seen wandering through the woods looking like a vagrant, Eric Bergland has returned to his ancestral country to look for relatives. But it soon emerges that he was somehow responsible, three years earlier, for a fire that killed five people. By the time that bit of exposition has been voiced, we’ve already seen trees crackle and glow around him, and noticed that one of Eric’s legs looks blackened and blistered, as if it had been slow-roasted. Plus, he just seems to be going through the standard-issue anxiety experienced by onscreen receptacles of as-yet-undefined mystical abilities. This involves a great deal of generic wariness, coupled with an instinctive suspicion of everyone with whom he comes in contact.
Still, the movie needs Eric to form an alliance with someone. So after he accidentally kills an obnoxious teenager who was harassing him—”If you touch me, you will burn,” Eric warns, but the kid doesn’t listen—the police request that he be examined by psychologist. He’s paired with the distraught Christine (Iben Akerlie), for some reason, despite her still-fresh guilt regarding another patient of hers who just committed suicide (but who’s completely forgotten once this flimsy emotional backstory has been established). In theory, Eric and Christine’s tentative relationship, as they set out to investigate the farmhouse where the earlier tragedy occurred, forms the narrative’s spine. In practice, both of them are so devoid of personality that one begins to wonder whether Eric might eventually be revealed as the Black Hole—a mutant with the uncanny ability to absorb and neutralize everything interesting about any human being within a 50-yard radius. Certainly that would be less of a cliché than what we get, which is another dude striking poses with outstretched arms while digital-effects teams animate lightning bolts shooting from (or in this case, sometimes, to) his fingertips. It’s Storm all over again.
Actually, it’s someone else. That the story takes place in Norway serves as a tipoff (hint: one related adjective is “Norse”), as does the title. But it’s still kind of grimly hilarious when Mortal arrives at its big finish, and does in fact prove to be the origin story of a character we’ve all not only heard of, but have seen in multiplexes quite frequently over the past decade or so. Wolff, given virtually nothing to work with, never figures out what to do with Eric, resorting to an all-purpose glower that makes him look like a very constipated Shia LaBoeuf. Akerlie turns the concern meter up to about seven early on, and just leaves it there for the duration. There’s some sort of government figure (Priyanka Bose) pursuing them, but her intentions never get clearly defined until it’s time for her to “unexpectedly” screw things up at the eleventh hour—which you can tell is about to happen because the tone abruptly becomes way, way too sunny. Director and cowriter André Øvredal (Trollhunter, The Autopsy Of Jane Doe) gets credit here for “original story,” but every single element has been borrowed, and precious little else of note about Mortal remains.