Vikings are cool. They kick lots of ass and they wear those awesome metal helmets with the horns on them. I’d say it’s about time we had a good Viking movie, don’t you? I just don’t know if this is the one. This is sort of a Viking movie that drops acid and it kicks in at the third act.
Vikings are cool. They kick lots of ass and they wear those awesome metal helmets with the horns on them. I’d say it’s about time we had a good Viking movie, don’t you? I just don’t know if this is the one. This is sort of a Viking movie that drops acid that kicks in during the third act.
Directed by Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn, who brought us the Pusher trilogy, and the film Bronson (which I recommend), Valhalla Rising follows One Eye, a hearty, one-eyed warrior that begins as a prisoner of some Scottish Vikings. He is kept in a cage and forced to fight opponents while chained to a post. He’s good at it, but hey, who likes being tied to a post? He manages to escape his captors but is conscientious enough to kill them all horribly and violently before leaving. He is accompanied by the young boy that brought him food and water, who also does all his talking for him because One Eye never says one word in the whole fucking film. Actually, nobody says much at all in this.
Along the way they encounter a small band of Christian Vikings that are going to The Holy Land to conquer it, either for Spiritual reasons, or financial ones. They sail the seas, for a REALLY LONG TIME, then arrive in some untamed land. Occasionally someone gets killed by some arrows that come from out of nowhere, resulting in a one-by-one situation until there is pretty much no one left. Then the credits roll. Wow.
Ok, the first reel of this movie is pretty great. It’s full of grisly Viking action (as in really graphic violent deaths), some really beautiful cinematography, and seems to depict life at that time in a realistic way. But as we join the group on the ship for their excruciatingly long and boring voyage, the film begins to go into some trippy territory. There are eventually sequences that can only be described as surreal perceptions of man’s relationship with Christianity in contrast with the instinctual nature of man as animals. Or something like that. Whatever. That’s what I think I got out of those particular scenes. Besides a desire to find a fast-forward button.
I don’t know what audience this is going for exactly. It’s got moments that are likely too violent and gory for the art house crowd, and these surreal moments that the Viking-violence crowd won’t appreciate.
The whole film is shot in this nearly monochromatic color palate, most of which is in the cool gray tones, with the exception of momentary visions of our protagonist, One Eye, which are in brilliant red. The music is like thundering grunge guitar throughout the whole film, which works on some levels. But frankly, the movie becomes rather avant garde after the first third and it feels pretentious. Oh, and did I mention there is basically NO plot? Certainly makes for an easy script to write, I guess. But there ARE plenty of Vikings employing meaningful gazes at nothing for minutes at a time. Mmm, thoughtful Vikings.
This, however, is not to say there isn’t anything to like here, believe it or not. There are some really cool moments in Valhalla Rising, and indeed the first third is great. And it really is shot beautifully. Some real Terence Malick-like cinematography. But ultimately it’s just too art house for a Viking movie. It feels like it should have been more grounded. And for an “action-packed” Viking film, there is surprisingly little after the first third. Oh, and guess what? Not even ONE helmet with horns. Fuck that. Definitely wait for this on DVD.
~ Neil T. Weakley, your average movie-goer, thinking that if you want Norseman kicking ass, wait for Thor next summer.