Valhalla Rising (2009)

I’m not sure how to describe this movie to people in terms of genre. I’ve read that it is “Viking historical action” or an “ambient black metal pagan pastoral” or an “atmospheric fantasy ride through Hell” (I think I made one of those up). It is the new film by Nicholas Winding Refn (of Pusher and Bronson fame).
It is a film with very little dialogue and absolutely none spoken by the main character by the name of One Eye (because he only has one eye), played by the stoic, impenetrable Mads Mikkelsen (channeling a cross between Toshiro Mifune and I don’t know what). As with his two films mentioned above, Refn definitely has a preoccupation with male characters whose actions explode with deep reserves of aggression split between times of almost zen-like quietness.

There’s not much narrative here, so I’ll leave that to others. It is mainly noteworthy for its striking visuals, brief beats of extremely intense violence, and its not-so transparent commentary on religion. The film is very abstract in its intentions, which will leave a lot of people unsatisfied. You definitely have to be ‘in the right mood’ to enjoy this. I found myself looking at the clock a few times (prompted by the division of the film into six onscreen chapter titles), but there are whole stretches of the film that are oddly compelling, yet devoid of any specific reason why.

Filmed entirely in the ethereal foggy highlands and colorful woods of Scotland, with sporadic dialogue entirely in English, the film seems to depict a type of religious parable, yet it is ultimately unintelligible without the viewer filling both the emotional and cognitive links (though I think it is obvious where Hell is supposed to be, at least, geographically). I saw/heard some links to other filmmakers here: Kubrick’s The Shining, Malick’s The New World, Von Trier’s Medea. Yet, none of these are really all that appropriate in describing the film as a whole. It is a fantasy epic that is less than 90 minutes with very little epicness about it. However, it is a clear calling card that Nicholas Winding Refn is definitely coming up in the world of cinema. I eagerly await his next project, whatever it may be.


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