Valhalla Rising DVD Review
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Muscular action in a rough country makes for brutal but enjoyable viewing...
“We have many Gods – they’ve only got the one”
Intent on conquering the Islamic world, a group of Christian Vikings set off for the Holy land only to discover they arrive in America. Thankfully one such God is sat on the boat with them in the form of Mads Mikkelsen’s mute warrior One-Eye.
Nicolas Winding Refn’s third film after the equally brutal Bronson and Pusher, Valhalla Rising depicts a land where loyalties count for little and death is violent, gory and unquestionably bleak. Detailing one man’s journey from hell to some kind of deity figure, it’s a brave and interesting approach that rewards repeated viewings.
When One-Eye is sold as a slave to the wealthy Barde (Alexander Morton) who he then disembowels brutally he sets off with a companion, a young boy called Are who acts as his interpreter and guide and joins a bunch of Viking crusaders as they set sail for Jerusalem.
Plot-wise there’s little else to fill the director’s apocalyptic vision. Mikkelsen’s mute delivery means Refn’s film delivers on the mantra that action speaks louder than words. A ten-minute opening scene, untroubled by dialogue sets the stall out for the rest of the film as One-Eye fights his way to survival and becomes enslaved for all of six minutes. This is a gory, bloody and vicious world where no one can be trusted and friends are few. Cleverly depicting the violence through the eyes of an innocent young boy (Maarten Stevenson) Refn manages to provide a sense of wonder and purpose to what might in other hands become mere senseless destruction.
"Refn’s film delivers on the mantra that action speaks louder than words"
We’re told straight away that “In the Beginning there was only Man and Nature.” Utilising the Scottish landscape Refn has created a brooding and bleak vision, punctuated at times by flashes of colour and hue to offset the brown murky gloom. However Man is not fighting Nature, but each other even if the stand out moments might suggest otherwise.
An extended sequence on board the crusader’s boat as it sails through endless mist evokes memories of Apocalypse Now as it heads to the heart of darkness, or for a more literary comparison, Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner. When they land on the shores of America Refn excels in creating an uneasy sense of foreboding which climaxes in a scene atop a cliff which references John Carpenter’s The Fog as eerily silent figures wait menacingly for the thrill of the kill.
It’s not for the faint-hearted, nor is it the bloody action fest the DVD cover would have us believe, but for those intrigued by an intelligent, stylish approach to a familiar genre or just considering a holiday in Scotland, Valhalla Rising provides more than enough to tempt.
Commentary with director and Journalist Alan Jones
“Making Of” Doc
Running Time: 90 mins
Valhalla Rising is released on the 17th of May 2010
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