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Valhalla Rising - Film Review




picture - Valhalla RisingMovie Review

by Frances Chapman

published July 10, 2010


Valhalla Rising

not rated

opens July 16 at the IFC Center in New York


Valhalla Rising suffers from too thin a plot and too thick a fog;  or, more precisely, the audience suffers – but bear in mind that you are hearing this from someone who walked out of Jean-Jacque Annaud's 1981 Paleolithic flick Quest for Fire just before the rape of the female love interest.


Fast forward thirty years (or scores of millennia) and I am squirming through Danish director Nicholas Winding Refn's current heroic fantasy which pits pagans against Christian Vikings. Unlike Quest for Fire, it has no female love interest at all, unless you count a bevy of bare-breasted women cowering in the ruins of a pagan Scottish village, burnt down by said Christians. The fate of the women--maybe they are just left to rebuild their village--remains an unanswered question. The film wallows in overwrought masculinity.


picture - Valhalla RisingThe story, such as it is, involves the escape of an enslaved warrior, One Eye (Mads Mikkelsen), who is kept in a cage by a pagan chieftain who lets him out only to fight in contests for money. One Eye finds an arrowhead when he is allowed an infrequent bath and uses it to cut his bonds while the clan is moving. He kills most of his tormentors, and for violence fans, the disemboweling is a high point.  The young boy, who has brought One Eye food, escapes with him and is played with haunting dispassion by Maarten Stevenson. With the village-burning Christians, the warrior and the boy go off to the Holy Land for riches and for God, but they all get lost in the aforementioned fog, and end up far from Jerusalem.


If there is any genius loci in the film's locales, it emerges in the photography. Scotland  really looks barren and isolated; the "new world," whether it is America or hell, bristles with promise, superficial emptiness, and danger.


However, there is more woo-woo than anti-colonial critique, and everybody--pagans, Vikings, and indigenous people--behaves badly for really unclear reasons. There is only one tone--ponderous--and the note is hit so often that it loses its ersatz solemnity. The titles for the "parts" of the film, e.g., "Wrath," "Men of God," "The Holy Land," "Hell," provide only empty labels and no clarity.


And worst of all for an action film: it's slow moving. At least, Quest for Fire had redeeming Paleolithic value.


franceschapman @ 


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