It's always a pleasant surprise to discover a new, talented and different filmmaker, one that challenges the way that you view films, whether that be through extremely graphic violence or dense, scary imagery. Nicolas Winding Refn is one of those filmmakers. He has already made some great films, such as the wonderful Bronson, which I have discussed in a previous post. Continuing his interest of diving head first into the dark nature of man, Refn's Valhalla Rising is an interesting, sometimes tough journey into a heart of darkness, culminating in a trip to an unknown land which offers emotional and physical horrors. Although the Blu-Ray cover would like to fool you, 300 this is not (thankfully).
Valhalla Rising takes place in 1000 AD and chronicles the journey of a mute Norse warrior called One-Eye who has supposedly supernatural strength and fighting technique. Along the way, a young boy named Are joins up with him after One-Eye kills everyone the boy knows. They meet up with a group of Christian Vikings looking for a crusade, and they sail to an unknown and disturbing land. The film is broken up into chapters, but they might as well be acts, because this film is more like a play than a movie.
2) Silent Warrior
3) Men of God
4) The Holy Land
6) The Sacrifice
As you can imagine by those chapter titles, this film is about the furthest from lighthearted and heartwarming as a film can be. It's very sparse on dialogue and very heavy on metaphoric, disturbing and beautiful imagery. Sometimes it's like watching a painting in motion. A lot of the speaking in the movie is filmed in a way that showcases the absolutely incredible vistas in the background (although it takes place in very different places, the entire film was shot in Scotland). I could linger on the thoughts of the visuals for paragraphs and paragraphs. It's a film that really benefits from watching in high definition, causing the backgrounds and graphic violence to really pop out of the screen (it's available for a limited time on Time Warner's HD Movies on Demand). The title of this review is "Vikings on an Acid Trip". I say this because the visuals and the accompanying music are always beautiful, sometimes disturbing, and usually quite surreal. One-Eye has visions that show flashes of things to come, always shown in a blood-red tint and horrific (in a good way) music. The difference between this movie and many others with similar stories and periods of time is simple: in other films you're watching something that takes place in another distant, scary time. In Valhalla Rising, you get dropped into this time, experiencing all of the horrors, atrocities and Hell that these men go through. Men's veins spurting, the rolling mountain backdrop, the mud, blood and shit-covered vikings coming to the realization of where their journey has taken them--these are the images that make each frame of the film a genuine work of art. Nicolas Winding Refn has cemented his status as a filmmaker to watch, assuming you want to watch something different than most of the over-marketed trash that gets thrown in front of our eyes every day. (B+)