Meditative, head-splittingly violent, and narratively trippy, Valhalla Rising, from auteur in the making Nicolas Winding Refn (Bronson, Pusher, Drive), is not your grandfather’s Viking adventure. Centering on a one-eyed mute warrior-slave, stoically played by Refn’s go-to-guy Madds Mikkelsen in a tremendously forceful performance, who has to fight in order to stay alive while under capture, Valhalla Rising is like some sort of acid-trip nightmare come to life. It appears to h…ave been filmed literally at the edge of the fucking earth, the musical score is brooding and unsettling, the violence is shocking, repulsively awesome, and at times very tough to watch, and the lyrical, loopy narrative takes any number of creative liberties and sojourns. This isn’t an A to B to C type endeavor with a concrete finale that ties everything up – far from it. Very similar in tone and spirit to Ben Wheatley’s black and white descent into madness A Field in England, this is challenging, and for some, frustrating cinema.
Refn isn’t out to coddle or make it easy for his audience, sometimes daring you to look away, and forcing the viewer to take this journey into hell along with a group of disgusting savages. But there’s also a beautiful poetry to his brand of ultra-violence, and when put into historical context (the Vikings weren’t a gentle bunch of explorers), one gets the idea that the brutality shown on screen would have likely been on par to what might have gone down back in the day. He wants you to think and while he makes you think he’s going to screw with your head while bashing it in with a smile. Valhalla Rising feels like a Terrence Malick film crossed with a little bit of Werner Herzog and then a dash of Jerry Bruckheimer thrown in with a sprinkle of psychological horror and a pinch of existential journey and a side order of hallucinogens. It’s like nothing you’ve ever seen and for that fact alone it should find its way into your viewing cycle soon if you’ve never experienced it. And trust me, experience is the operative term with this intense, harshly gorgeous, instant cult classic.