A mute, one eyed, warrior (Mads Mikkelsen) is kept prisoner and forced to fight for sport by a "big meanie” Scottish clan. He escapes his captors with the aid of a young slave (Maarten Steven) and the unlikely duo eventually tag along with a group of Christian Vikings. The whole lot embark on a not so merry journey in search of Jerusalem, in the name of reclaiming God’s land … nothing wrong with that! Alas, what they find instead is HELL! Yeehaw!
After a long night of drinking with buds; I woke up early the next morning with one of the worst hangovers I’ve had all year. My gray matter was mush and my motor skills were null.
So being that I was a useless heap of flesh; no good for anything; I decided to stay in bed and watch my last movie of 2010;
Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn’s
follow up to BRONSON; VALHALLA RISING
. And what an ideal choice it was in light of my then battered disposition.
For the first ten minutes or so of VALHALLA RISING; all I kept thinking was: What the f*ck am I watching over here??? Were last night’s drinks spiked
with GHB or was I truly witnessing what I was seeing?
Well, winds up I wasn’t chasing the Dragon
after all; this was a warped and hallucinatory-ish Viking movie with a unique rhythm, an aloof nature that challenged my one brain cell, a deliciously horror-ish tone and hardly any dialogue or music going on. Not an obvious piece of work, that’s for sure! And thankfully, the flick eventually took over me like Pazuzu penetrating Reagan's...um...soul... and I became one with it. The best way I can describe this one is Terrence Malick meets David Lynch by way of Hearts of Darkness.. on acid
that is. What a warped bad trip this was! I can TOTALLY understand how some would loathe this picture. It had a snail pace, not much action and the HOW, WHO AND WHY as to the narrative (which was slyly divided up into five chapters) were beyond vague. But for some reason; all of that jive
came together wonderfully and worked in its favor for my sorry ass.
The themes of Faith in God versus disbelief in him weren’t hammered my way; they were hinted at;
strongly enough to sting and make me do the work. Same went for the shady statement on colonization and the “Are they in hell or not?” query. Hint, hint… no concrete answers. Yup, to spit out that VALHALLA RISING was an experience left up to one’s interpretation would be an understatement.
The flick was ALL ABOUT that shite and I loved it for it! I got my take on it ; I think its a
solid one, all good.
Visually; this one was morbid art set in motion. The striking scenery (those mountains were wow) and the eerie atmosphere (that mist…brrr) helped in making this watch an even more compelling one. The imagery was so hypnotizing that the slow burn pace never bothered me once; I was always deep in there; heart and
spirit; living the ride. Moreover, the high quotient of brutality hit the spot. It in fact often made up for the lack of physical action. Every time high grade violence would kick in; it would back-hand me stupid and I'd be a wiser man for it. And it should be said that you have to esteem a director that’s able to tackle varied genres
this efficiently. Where Bronson was an energetic character study, with a fairly kinetic camera;
Nicolas Winding Refn took a polar opposite approach to Valhalla Rising which was a surreal, symbolism heavy and style over substance effort. One that was all about wide shots; slow infectious camera movements and oppressive atmospherics. The man’s got range…respect!
On the acting front; the whole cast was credible (Maarten Steven as the slave-boy was particularly money) and their portrayal of Vikings on a quest
of Faith rang true. But at the end of the evisceration; this was Mads Mikkelsen’s show through and through. The man oozed of menace, silent intensity and had “Don’t f*ck with me or else” stamped on his forehead. I feared him, looked up to him and wanted to buy him a beer. Add to that a brilliant sound design (the wind blowing never came off creepier) and a seldom yet unique score (industrial metal mixed in with tribal beats with a dash of spooky) and you get one hell of a death trip! Any negatives to spew? Not really. Maybe the
affair was too hazy for its own good in places; or maybe not. Not sure, who cares!
For better and for worse; VALHALLA RISING was its own beast, it played by its own rules and really didn’t give a frick about pleasing anybody but itself…all good; cause I got lots of juice out of it. It was pure art house/auteur filmmaking with a macabre streak, supernatural undertones,
gore galore and enough surreal bullets in its chamber to fill up five bong parties. Wanna get high with Vikings? Why the f*ck not!
We get skulls crushed with rocks, a nasty evisceration, severed heads, slit throats, a head on a stick and stabbings. A vicious movie.
We’re treated to some occasional nudity (naked corpses) and the ladies (and everybody else who chews the beef) get shirtless dudes. All I remember.
What can I say? VALHALLA RISING made for an unsettling and bleakly stunning end of the year surprise! Bizarre, aloof, depth filled and as violent as Mel Gibson after a bottle of Tequila; I don’t think I’ve tackled a trippier or more unapologetic (as to its nature) flick this year. And I dare ya to take your eyes off Mads Mikkelsen during your watch! The man OWNED this movie and then some. Again; this celluloid bad trip is obviously not for everybody; I can see how the snail pace and indistinctness would turn many off; but it got the job motherf*cking done for this jerk. I must own the DVD! So ya wanna tweak with the Devil? Hop on this boat!