Dark comedy Wild Men opens in wintry Norwegian mountains, their visual majesty disrupted by a soundtrack of sobbing. Cut to a man, draped in furs and carrying a bow and arrow, crying his eyes out. Pulling himself together, he tries catching a ram in nearby woods. He appears to wound it, but it escapes. Unable to find further prey, he clubs a frog to death, cooking it that night. The next morning, he’s throwing up. 

Then, this apparent Viking finds a chocolate bar wrapper that’s floated upstream, revealing that we’re not in fact watching a period piece in the vein of Robert Eggers’ The Northman (2022). The man journeys to a gas station, attempting to buy groceries and cigarettes but forgetting his debit card.

This is Denmark resident Martin (Rasmus Bjerg), a husband and father who, experiencing a midlife crisis, has abandoned his family to live in a huge Norwegian forest, adhering as closely as possible to the lifestyle of his ancestors a thousand-plus years ago. It’s only been 10 days in the wilderness, and wife Anne (Sofie Gråbøl) still thinks he’s just away on a work trip.

“Men are so incredibly bad at dealing with their emotions in times of crisis,” says Wild Men’s director, Thomas Daneskov. “They seem to drink more and isolate themselves.”

“I’d been working on a project for a long time that was basically the same film, but without the fur. Then we started seeing a psychiatrist with our screenplay. He’s a professor who’s been researching male midlife crises for 40 years. He opened our eyes to how big this problem actually is. The suicide rate is three times higher for men. Drinking is four times as much. They’re not as educated as women. They’re lonelier and a lot of them don’t get [custody of] the kids.”

Wild Men (2021)
© Blue Finch Film Releasing

The team left a copy of the screenplay, co-written by Morten Pape, on this psychiatrist’s couch. “He started analysing all the characters and feeding back. It opened our minds when he started explaining why it is that men’s brains are wired differently than women’s. You see it in the film when they’re smoking weed and speculating on the differences, asking, ‘Is this something we inherited from our ancestors 7,000 years ago?’ I don’t know, I’m not 10,000 years old, so I haven’t got the answer, but I think that was funny to discuss.”

Joining Martin for that weed-smoking scene is Musa (Zaki Youssef), an injured man he finds one day. Thinking he’s an ill-equipped first-time hiker, he assists Musa to his ferry port destination. But his new companion is actually a hash smuggler who believes his associates died in a nearby car accident. In fact they survived and are hunting for him, believing he stole the goods on purpose. Also on the hunt are the ineffective local Norwegian police, who’ve been in touch with the wannabe Viking’s wife after Martin’s gas station incident.

With a plot like this, it’s no wonder Wild Men has received a few comparisons to the Coen brothers’ Fargo (1996), particularly the “goofy police officers” as Daneskov describes them. “The production was camped out of this tiny town,” he says. “When we did some of the first location scouting, the crew went to meet the police and see how it goes down. The police station was in a mini mall next to an ATM, a taxi cab service and a dentist. They had a sign up in Comic Sans font that said, ‘Open every second Thursday’. Just this ridiculous place. I never met any police because I couldn’t; we had to leave the next day. So when we went to write the shooting draft, we goofed up the police officers quite a bit, because that was just too funny to me.” The rewrite included a running gag about a police dog who’s always got a day off.

As well as Fargo, Daneskov cites Deliverance (1972) and the first Rambo film, First Blood (1982), as conscious influences. “Of course,” he adds, “you can’t help but talk about Into the Wild [2007], where I just think it’s ridiculously hilarious that he dies from those berries at the end. That’s so funny to me. It’s a true story, but that would happen to me in 10 minutes.”

Wild Men (2021)
© Blue Finch Film Releasing

In researching midlife crises, Daneskov got regular Google adverts for Viking camps in Norway, an example of which appears in the film. “You go and pretend to be a Viking for six months,” he explains. “And it’s pretty hardcore. There was a guy I met who’d become like the monk of the town. He was 24 years old and had lived in London, playing computer games all day. Now, he’s on a reindeer meat diet. And he’s reading the Bible in this fake little church and hadn’t used a computer for five months and was really happy about it. But there’s also this fake quality to it because I saw that guy in a similar situation to the gas station scene that’s in the film. He was in his monk suit getting crisps, soda and all sorts of shit that’s not part of a Viking diet.”

“In Scandinavia, when you feel weak, you can go back and draw upon that Scandinavian ancestor strength. You go into the mountains, out in nature. I think it’s so pathetic. It’s ridiculous to expect so much of nature; for a mountain to make you feel better just because you’re depressed. You’re not going to find yourself in the woods. If you can’t find yourself in an apartment, that’s not going to work. I think it’s pretty ridiculous to keep looking backwards like that. But for some people it works. I’m guilty myself: going on these long hikes and trying to go to Japan, to find myself all by myself. It never works!”

Wild Men is in cinemas from 6 May, supported by the BFI Film Fund.