Title: Valhalla Rising
Director: Nicolas Winding Refn
Staring: Mads Mikkelson, Maarten Stevenson
This seems to be quite a divisive movie - on the one hand, it's a breathtaking work of cinematography and the director creates a wonderfully dense and opressive atmosphere through the stark enviroment that plays backdrop to the films chaotic events, the sparse and suspensful dialogue and the droning martial industrial soundtrack. On the other hand, this is an experimental film marketed as an action movie - on more than one occasion I saw it mentioned in the same breath as 2007's Beowulf or the recent remake of Clash of the Titans. I can only assume that anyone viewing the film under a pretence of similarity with those aforementioned movies would be greatly disapointed, and even though I largely enjoyed the movie at home I have to question whether i'd feel the same after viewing it in the cinema.
You see, nothing much happens in Valhalla rising. The film ostensibly tells the story of One-Eye, a savage mute living a life of captivity among the pagan tribes of Scotland and forced to fight in brutal deathmatches. He eventually wins his freedom and joins with a group of Christian mercenaries intent on reclaiming the holy land, but once their voyage begins things take a turn for the weird and they find themselves stranded in a strange land seemingly untouched by civilisation. Although the plot is fairly straight forward, the manner in which it's handled is decidedly experimental and vague and leads one to believe that there's a deeper subtext to be found.
The film is broken into a number of sections, each labelled in a religious tone as much of the movie seems to be a comment on the differences between the pagan religion of old and the invading Christian beliefs - the protagonist himself recalls Odin, with his solitary eye and cryptic visions of the future, and while the Christian characters stumble blindly towards their fate, pleading and begging for mercy, One-Eye heads unflinchingly into the fate laid out for him, just like the pagan chieftans at the beginning, knowing their days were numbered in the face of the relentless tide of Christianity.
Overall i'd reccomend Valhalla Rising - it's certainly not a movie for everyone, not a movie i'd ever watch with company and certainly not a movie i'd try and sell as an action blockbuster, but Nicolas Winding Refn has succeeded here in creating a deep and intriguing world with this film and on a relatively meagre budget. There are some fantastic performances from the cast, a handful of vicious and bloody fight scenes and beautiful, arresting imagery throughout. It's a film that has left me contemplating it's meaning long after I had finished watching, and while it's not an experience that may appeal to many, ultimately it's films like this that inspire and intiruge that are the one's worth watching.