Valhalla Rising is a film directed by Nicolas Winding Refn.  Refn is the director of Bronson which is a truly enjoyable film in my opinion.  With this film he continues to fascinate me.  Valhalla rising takes place in 1000 AD and tells the story of One-eye (played stoically by Mads Mikkelsen).  One – eye is a slave warrior who is a savage fighter that is unbeatable in what can only be compared to the fight club of the Viking era.  This film was like Gladiator meets the 13th Warrior (that atrocious Antonio Banderas movie from ’99, which is based on a decent Michael Crichton novel; Eaters of the Dead (which was based loosely on Beowulf)).   Anyway, One-way extracts his bloody revenge on his captures and becomes the protector of a young boy who was part of the clan.  They meet up with some Christian Vikings on their way to Jerusalem.  The group has an uneasy alliance until they get caught up in “the mist” and arrive “in hell” (the New world before it became known as such).  They fight, some die, one-eye sees glimpses of a bloody future and the boy becomes “psychically connected”??  to one-eye able to speak for him.

That’s the plot.

That’s it, that’s all that happens story wise.

I don’t even know what it means, I don’t know how to explain the images in a way to connect to a conclusion to the story.  I honestly don’t really understand what happened in the end.  Hell I only knew it took place in 1000 AD due to a synopsis I read.

But what was awesome about the movie was the style.  While the plot and meaning of the movie is up for debate it was how the tale was told, visually and mostly; silently.  The film was almost a montage of beautifully framed shots and then edited consequently to show the passage of linear time.  Each and every shot was like looking a painting showing the visage of  Crusade era highlands.  When men are part of the shot they are framed with the misty mountains, and fire and smoke beside and behind them.  You can feel how the mud feels at their feet and how fresh the water feels when they wash the caked mud of off their faces.  Each individual shot could be a framed piece of artwork that a writer wrote a story too.  Every once in a while a character says something to break the haunting silence.

The film is broken up into six chapters which created an opera -esque environment for me.  The chapter headings aided in at least understanding where you were in the story.  The music was low and ominous and crescendoed, not always to a bloody climax of visual violence, but mostly to the end of an emotional voyage of a character.

All in all, the film confused me as I watched it.  However, ultimately I truly enjoyed the film making itself.  Whether viewed as self-important and possibly pretentious, I truly do not believe one can belittle the cinematography and how it was used as the primary source of telling the story.

I would not recommend this to every one, I don’t even know when I would watch it again.  If I could have almost every scene as a picture on my wall I would be happy and if you can find beauty in “fluid still shot” film making, you will be too.  I can only wish that one day the director will do a commentary for the film, because at that point I’d buy the dvd in an instant.

Update 5/10/11 l- Recently I watched this directors’ first film and I was riveted once again.  This has only made me rethink how good V.Rising actually was and may very well revisit the review.