The movie Valhalla Rising caught me off guard a little, it turned out to have a lot more about it than I initially thought.
From the style of artwork and the reference to Bronson (a film I have no interest in seeing whatsoever), it is easy to assume that Valhalla Rising is going to be an ultra-violent gore-fest that has no real depth to it and is simply a macho “lads movie”. On one level, I suppose it could be seen as that. Certainly the violence is brutal and there is quite a bit of it. However, there is a lot more psychological depth to Valhalla Rising as well.
The basic story is that of a Norse prisoner, held by a local tribe, apparently in Scotland, and used as a gladiatorial fighter, taking on all comers and more or less beating them to a pulp! The lead role (referred to only as One Eye) is taken by Mads Mikkelsen, probably best know for his role Le Chiffre in the Daniel Craig Casino Royale, but he has also had parts in King Arthur and Clash of the Titans (keeping it within my interest zone). I don’t think his character says even one word throughout the film, preferring to simply glower at people or indeed beat them to a pulp. The character that probably has the most depth is that of Are, played by Maarten Stevenson. A boy who helps One Eye escape from his captors and then accompanies him throughout the rest of the film.
Through a roundabout route One Eye ends up joining a party of early crusaders, heading off by boat, to the Holy Land. Unfortunately due to a heavy fog they end up landing in a very different place (I wont give the location away, but lets just say that it must have been one heck of a fog…). At this point the film shifts gear completely, the first half has the feel of a grim and vaguely historical version of the 1982 Conan the Barbarian movie. The second half, however can best be described as a Viking Apocalyspe Now. The party of warriors that One Eye is travelling with, slowly descends into madness and death, as they begin to starve and are also picked off by the local natives.
This is a very dark and oppressive movie, I think a “bunch of lads” just looking for a fun film with plenty of gore and not much depth would probably be sorely disappointed. However, for myself, I was actually very much surprise, and I found it both interesting and thought provoking. Quite beautifully shot, although again, against a dark and oppressive landscape, the design of the film is minimal, but very well done.
As for the DVD itself, it features a half hour “making of” documentary which is well worth watching, if only to get inside the head of the director and to get some idea of where he was coming from with the film itself.
Director Nicholas Winding Refn