Valhalla Rising is a film by Nicholas Winding Refn, director of the Pusher trilogy. I remember watching the first part of this in a Singapore Film Festival back in the day and was much impressed. The lead actor, Mads Mikkelsen, plays One Eye, a brutal Norse warrior who’s also mute. He kinda looks like Thom Yorke in Viking cosplay. I saw the trailer and thought it was gonna be some Viking crusade epic battle movie with swords and blood and stuff so it’s been on my to watch list for a bit but that trailer is so misleading. The cross between Ridley Scott’s Kingdom of Heaven and Beowulf I thought it was going to be did not materialise. Instead, it’s more like Aguirre: Wrath of God put through an acid lens filter. It’s sorta disappointing since it’s not what the trailer made me expect but somehow it’s also strangely worth a gander.

“So get your knives out, catch the mouse, don’t look down shove it in your mouth…”

The films is stark, brutal and dead slow, mournful even. Helped in no small part by the soundtrack, which is kinda like a super dramatic Sunn O))), drony and then bursting into shrill notes when there’s some suspense or turning into some guitar driven noise on occasion. There’s this long scene where everyone goes a bit nuts after imbibing some alcohol/hallucinogenic liquid and um digging in the mud or making cairns or whatever. It’s kinda trippy and much of the film is like these forlorn shots of misty forests and craggy rocks and upside down redcast rivers. If you staring at barren landscapes and indulging in your inner moodiness, this film might be for you.

There’s a few pretty good action scenes, they’re few and far between. Each is rather gory though. There’s a guy who gets his head smashed till you sorta see his brain. Another scene has One Eye gutting a guy and plopping his intestines on the ground. You don’t see the intestines but y’know some people want to see blood and guts and this sorta delivers a little bit of that. There’s a lot more of these soundtrack enabled tripfests like the long slow boat ride in a misty sea or the part where they drink some shit and trip out or the sequential scenic sequences of the imaginary land/hell which is in actual fact Scotland. In a rather dark and unsettling fashion, the cinematography is just hauntingly beautiful replete with great color.

The film is split into 6 parts, tracking the main character from when he was a sort of gladiator to his escape from imprisonment to his meeting up with a buncha crusaders. From there, we follow this group in a pointedly ill fated trip to an imaginary holy land where fame and riches await. Instead of Jerusalem, they end up across the Atlantic and slowly get picked off one by one by the local savages until there’s just One Eye and his friend, the young boy Are.

Great for people who wished Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal had brutal action fight scenes and got the moody bits drawn out longer. It’s part existential mourning, part religious critique, part exploration of humanity and part acid trip, totally not an action movie at all but also totally cool at the same time.

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