A tone poem about Vikings and Christians.
Valhalla Rising doesn’t fit nicely into any genre, which makes describing it somewhat difficult. On the surface, it is about a silent warrior who breaks free from his captors and joins with Christians on their way to the holy land. The group is marooned and ends up in North America, where they are stalked by mostly unseen Native Americans. That synopsis probably sounds more like an adventure film than this one actually is.
Instead, the film seems focused on the mood more than the content of the plot. There is a finality to everything within the film. The Viking way of life is threatened by the Christians. The fear of the approaching religious army circles the beginning of the film. However, it is not only the Vikings who fear the Christians. The religious men also plan to retake the holy land, and once in North America… Well, we know how that turned out in the long run.
The destructive nature of man is on full display here. Each of the characters appears compelled to move forward with their own goals. The warrior One-Eye (played marvelously by Mads Mikkelsen) appears compelled to follow the visions he sees throughout the film. While the characters do make decisions, it is uncertain how much of what they do is simply reactionary to the world around them.
The film is beautifully filmed. Some of the shots of nature and the multiple filters used make the movie appear more as an artistic canvas than a narrative. Some might not enjoy the numerous shots of the sky and the use of light as a symbol, but for those who do, this film is top notch. The action sequences are quick and brutal. One Eye’s combative prowess borders on supernatural, and the swiftness of death comes quickly.
However, some of the sound choices for the action sequences are a bit jarring. The squishiness of the bodies is at points laughable. These sounds break the dreamlike beauty of the film and stand out as a misfire. A small error, but each time I watch the film, these moments become more distracting.
Not everyone will enjoy this film. I have heard it called boring, pretentious, or greatness. The hyper-stylized nature of the filming and the minimalist narrative will ultimately divide viewers. Most people know what type of viewer they are, and can adjust accordingly. However, a great failing of this film is the previews. Why the trailers are cut to make this (and many other) movies seem like something they are not is foolish in my opinion. Knowing what you’re heading into will help the audience determine if the film is worth seeing. An unfortunate side effect of our modern film-going experience. If you are interested in a meditative and beautifully shot film, give this one a try. 9/10