Valhalla Rising is a Viking fever dream death trip, a violent desolate odyssey from precocious Danish filmmaker Nicholas Winding Redfn. It’s unrelentingly sparse and brutally minimal, with lingering shots of a brooding unforgiving landscape and little in the way of dialogue. In fact the main character One Eye (Mads Mikkelsen from Redfn’s infamous Pusher trilogy), is mute, his violence does his talking. It opens with One Eye in a Scottish highland mud pit strangling and disembowelling opponents, a prisoner who lives in a cage forced to fight for his survival. When he escapes he joins some Christian Vikings on a quest for the holy land. In Redfn’s hands it’s a mystical quasi-religious El Topo/ Aguirre Wrath of God like trip with strange psychedelic flourishes, surreal set pieces and savage bursts of ultra violence. In the directors commentary Redfn says it’s almost like an acid trip. “How can you make a movie that is like a drug?” He asks before suggesting, “If you’re looking for conventional filmmaking you might not be too happy.” He’s got grand plans here, drawing allusions to both the monolith and the evolution of the species in 2001 A Space Odyssey. It’s not a historical drama, he suggests, before dropping the bombshell. It’s science fiction. With a God complex.
Are we watching the same film here? This is one of those rare occasions where the director’s commentary totally alters your perception of the film. It’s long, beautiful, occasionally slow, violent, gore obsessed, and very self-indulgent. It’s the kind of precocious manipulation of the cinematic form that few filmmakers are able to get away with these days. But from the Pusher trilogy to Bronson Winding Redfn has continued to demonstrate a unique and assured vision. Valhalla Rising, despite being his least traditional and well, weirdest film, is also his most rewarding.
Bob Baker Fish