“Valhalla Rising” Movie Review (2010)

8/14/2010 Posted by Admin

“Valhalla Rising”

Movie Review

Written by Nicolas Winding Refn and Roy Jacobsen, directed by Refn, 90 minutes, not rated.

By our guest blogger, Joel Crabtree

“Valhalla Rising,” the latest film from director Nicolas Winding Refn (The “Pusher” series, “Bronson”) is, and will remain, one of the most visually striking films to be released in 2010. Every frame of the movie, each one as haunting as the next, could stand alone in a museum of modern art.

The film follows One Eye (Mads Mikkelsen), a mute slave warrior with only one eye (obviously) who is forced to fight to the death while held captive by the Norse chieftain Barde in 1000 A.D. The combat is some of the most brutal filmed in years. With a sparse score barely filling the void -- and hardly any dialogue to speak of -- we’re forced to hear all of the bone cracking, skin tearing and grunts of pain the movie has to offer. It's not exactly a pleasant experience, but it is impossible to shake.

While being transported as part of a trade, One Eye slaughters his captors (more of that unshakable violence) and aligns himself with a boy named Are on a journey to, well, Hell, in some sense of the word.

The two board a Viking vessel on its way to the Jerusalem, only to be marred by a thick fog. As the crew’s outlook becomes dim, they become suspicious of One Eye, believing him to be some sort of supernatural entity bringing bad luck upon the journey. From here, the film spirals further and further into more trippy territory.

Is the crew justified in its fear of One Eye? Perhaps. Not only does One Eye have nearly superhuman killing abilities, he also receives vague visions of the future with glowing, blood red accents, another artistic touch from Refn. But, most of all, it's the mystery of One Eye that creates fear among his fellow journeymen -- fear of the unknown.

From the film’s description, “Valhalla Rising” may sound like a trumped up Viking actioner following in the footsteps of “Pathfinder” or “The 13th Warrior.” In the wrong hands, or if made through a major studio, it may very well have been. But rest assured, it is the polar opposite of these movies.

Unlike those aforementioned films, “Valhalla Rising” is left open for interpretation from start to finish. Fans of Point A-to-Point B films will struggle with it, looking for explicitly stated answers. They won’t find them. What Refn has created is a challenging work of art, something that can be difficult to watch at times. But that's part of its appeal.

The filmmakers take a major risk casting an actor such as Mads Mikkelsen – one of the best working today -- as a mute. However, Mikkelsen speaks more by saying absolutely nothing than most actors could with bottomless dialogue. With so many unique features, Mikkelsen’s face has a way of drawing viewers in. The scarred-up One Eye is no exception.

Its connection to religion is clear throughout the film, as is evident in each of the six segments’ titles and themes. But what does it all mean? To fully connect the dots, you might have to be a philosophy or theology PhD candidate. Unfortunately, I'm neither. But that won't stop me from dwelling on it.

“Valhalla Rising” will leave you mentally and emotionally exhausted, and it will stay with you for days after, for better or for worse.

Grade: B+

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