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Having recently watched “Outlander”, I came to the inevitable conclusion that any further Viking movie that didn’t have giant aliens in it would not be worth my time. Turns out I was wrong. “Valhalla Rising” doesn’t have any aliens in it and is still very good. So good in fact, that it probably wouldn’t have benefitted from aliens – actually aliens MIGHT EVEN HAVE RUINED IT.
So how does this alien-lite viking movie pan out? Well, it starts with a bit of fighting – always a good thing – then it progresses with a bit of walking, then there’s a fight, then some more walking, then someone gets hit with an arrow, then a bit more walking, then some fighting, then walking, then a quick fight, then a bit more walking, then some talking, and then something happened at the end but I have no idea what.
So if this sounds like the film for you, then you’re in luck. But if it doesn’t (hint: there’s too much walking) then you might want to steer clear of “Valhalla Rising”. Especially if you’re a fan of films like the aforementioned “Outlander”, or “Pathfinder”, or any other action-heavy period film – because you won’t find much of that here. What you will find is existential meandering, dreamlike psychedelia, lots of staring into the distance and a large amount of silence. Doesn’t sound like party-central does it?
Well it’s not. It’s more concerned with looking into the human psyche, by way of our central character – One-Eye, played by Mads Mikkelsen – who takes us on a journey to the Holy land on some sort of crusade with a rag-tag group of other warriors. This journey consists mainly of mute wandering, but is pierced intermittently with bouts of shocking and unflinching violence. “Valhalla Rising” is not an action film in the slightest sense of the phrase (even if there are a few exciting sequences) and is far more centered on metaphorical imagery and disorientating non-linear drifting.
Well, it’s not actually. There’s something about this film that keeps you glued to the screen – whether it’s the surreal, illusory direction by Nicholas Winding Refn, the mysterious, foreboding elements of the cryptic plot or the fantastically subtle performance from Mikkelsen, there remains that special something that makes it worth watching.
Particularly Mikkelsen in fact. Having seen him in “Clash of the Titans” I assumed he’d be playing the same type of part here. I was wrong again. In “Titans” he plays your bog-standard warrior who’s pretty good at fighting etc big wow oooooh I’m scared what you gonna do about it, but in “Rising” all the machismo is played down and hidden behind a weathered face that does all the talking his muteness won’t allow. Until that is, he has to fight someone. Then the latent masculinity comes powering to the fore and jizzes all over the screen in an explosion of hardness that makes One-Eye one of the most powerful and frightening screen warriors to ever smash someone in the face.
A strong lead is essential in a film as enigmatic as this, for the vague and puzzling nature of the plot would force the audience away were it not for an engaging central performance to rein them back in. Luckily Mikkelsen is here to save the day, and he displays such a magnetism that it’s hard to draw your eyes away from him. Oh and really hard vikings are pretty cool anyway.
“Valhalla Rising” is something that must be seen – even if you don’t enjoy it, which I’m sure many won’t – as it’s a film which isn’t afraid to try something a little bit left-field with an established and well-worn genre. Nicholas Winding Refn has crafted an unusual but highly watchable dreamscape that goes against the grain in so many ways yet still draws you in and presents you with a film that is at once terrifying, at others intriguing but always highly involving.
Good luck trying to figure out what the fuck happens at the end though.
“Valhalla Rising” comes to Region 2 DVD on the 17th May from Momentum Pictures and Vertigo Films
Nicolas Winding Refn (director) / Roy Jacobsen, Nicolas Winding Refn (screenplay)
CAST: Mads Mikkelsen … One Eye
Maarten Stevenson … Are / The Boy
Gordon Brown … Hagen
Andrew Flanagan … Gudmond
Gary Lewis … Kare
Gary McCormack … Hauk
Alexander Morton … Barde