Nihilism reigns in the gorgeously shot, art house Viking horror film Valhalla Rising.
Director Nicolas Winding Refn is not a filmmaker of convention in his approach to genre or structure. His previous film, Bronson more than proved that by turning the biopic on its head, and gave us a new major talent named Tom Hardy.
In Valhalla Rising, Refn has cast acclaimed character actor Mads Mikkelsen as a mute warrior, whose brutal nature is used as sport by his Norse captors.
When he escapes from his cage and dispatches his keepers with a brutal savagery that would even make torture porn hounds wince, he reluctantly joins a group of crusading Christians on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. But fate holds other plans.
Filmed in the Scottish highlands, Valhalla Rising features a magnificent use of style, as eerily beautiful imagery (courtesy of Morton Soborg) meshes with an unholy sense of mourning, as if Terrence Malick fell into a spiritual void while suffering a bad trip.
Throughout is a palpable sense of dread, and if it is indeed Hell which Refn is trying to sell, he has succeeded. Yet instead of fire, ash, and brimstone, Refn has created a world void of love, hope, and compassion.
Long periods a silence, occasionally broken by Peter Kyed and Peter Peter’s pulsating score, reveals the darkness within the hearts of these men, whose spiritual journey quickly turns into a pilgrimage of horrors.
In turn, Valhalla Rising is a hard and at times dreary watch, yet it comes with rewards.
On the outside looking in is Mikkelsen’s mute warrior, affectionately given the moniker “One Eye” due to his missing feature. Exactly what or who he is remains a mystery, yet the way which he is played with such physical restraint by Mikkelsen is impressive.
Likewise if Refn’s skills as a filmmaker. Although his film revels in the horror of nothingness, his artistic voice and vision rings loud amongst a barren landscape of remakes, reboots, and 3D.
How odd that a film about Hell on Earth is the light to shine brightest from movie Heaven upon a spiritually defunct and artistically void industry. May it Reign in Reifn until kingdom come, or Valhalla rises.