Sunday, May 23, 2010

Valhalla Rising (2009)

Nicholas Winding Refn’s introspective Valhala Rising (2009) is occasionally punctuated by unflinching violence, but it’s art house through and through. It’s a visually-spectacular and deliberately-paced character study where the stresses of a brutal journey merge with hypnotic dream sequences to deliver a compelling (but sometimes ponderous) experience

Set in the sparsely populated Scottish Highlands after Christianity has swept through much of Europe, Valhala Rising (2009) starts with a mute and shackled prisoner (later named One-Eye) forced to fight other captives to the death. The Highlands are desolate, with no towns, villages or other signs of civilization. One-Eye escapes, and joins Christian pillagers traveling to the Holy Land to fight the good fight (but with some only motivated by the riches dangled in front of them). A fog-bound journey across the sea to what they think is the Holy Land is psychologically draining and hallucinatory, and the movie reaches a climax when they land and conclude they’re not where they wanted to be.

Much of the movie concentrates on One-Eye’s psychological journey through hypnotic dream sequences – these are sometimes bathed in red and jarring. The music reaches a Nine Inch Nails-like electronic crescendo during some of the more haunting sequences.

Mads Mikellson plays One-Eye with a grinding intensity. He doesn’t speak but is occasionally ignited into action with an axe and his bare hands, breaking necks and disembowelling others with grim efficiency. He is, however, uncharacteristically resolute at the conclusion when he sacrifices himself to save the life of a companion.

Valhalla Rising (2009) reminded me of another recent similarly-paced movie, Van Diemen’s Land (2009), which also features a small group of desperate men travelling across a harsh landscape. Van Diemen’s Land was, however, based on a true story which made it a more grounded experience.

Some may consider Valhalla Rising (2009) pretentious, but the movie doesn’t pretend to be a crowd-pleaser. It’s strictly for those who are willing to experience a film-maker’s interpretation of a traumatic psychological journey. David Lynch-fans need only apply.

1 comment:

  1. Good review.
    I support your opinion about this film.