Valhalla Rising review

Nicolas Winding Refn's new effort is an odd fish indeed. It's very slow and very moody, punctuated by bouts of bone crushing visceral violence, but ultimately it doesn't add up to anything. Still, the director has a commanding style and is excellent at conjuring up a bleak, omenous atmosphere.

It's set in Viking times. Mikkelsen plays One Eye, kept in a cage by his captors and only let out to fight opponents for his master's money - which he does with accomplished ferocity. He's a skilled warrior who can dispense foes with sadistic ease and his reputation along the isles is regarded with fear. Soon he offs his chieftains, disembowelling one of them for good measure, and makes his escape accompanied by a young boy.

They come across a group of Christian mercenaries, the leader of which is impassioned about bringing the word of the Lord to Jerusalem, and so accompany the men on a sea journey to the holy land. Or is it hell they actually end up at? Either way, the promise of riches does not befall them.

This is a difficult movie that is unafraid to alienate its audience. One Eye, for example, remains resolutely mute throughout, never once uttering a word, and what little dialogue there is spoken by the other characters sounds alternately cliched and elliptical. The fight scenes are vivid, brutal and certainly not for the squeamish but they occur at cunningly judged intervals. Most of the time we get lingering shots of the men looking suitably dour along with impressive vistas that emanate a tone of impending doom. The participants do indeed take a journey into the heart of darkness and there is a slight Apocalypse Now resonance at certain stages.

Mikkelsen is an enigmatic lead, giving nothing away but physically powerful and able to show a tacit protection of the boy with subtle glances and a determined but nuanced forcefulness. All of the other players, barring Stevenson as the boy, are much of a muchness - bearded, grimy, dishevelled and with Scottish accents. There's no-one here you can warm to.

And that can be said of the entire film. Though it's well crafted with a singular vision, it's too minimalist to be persuasive. But it still draws one's grudging respect nevertheless.

Official Site
Valhalla Rising at IMDb

Stuart O'Connor is the Managing Editor of Screenjabber, the movie review website he co-founded with Neil Davey far too many years ago. He likes all genres, as long as the film is good (although he does enjoy the occasional bad "guilty pleasure"), and drinks way too much coffee.

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