VALHALLA RISING (2009) is strange, violent, tedious, seriously moody, and strangely compelling. With its long takes, desolate vistas, lack of dialogue, puzzling ending, and haunting score, it’s a powerful movie that I imagine is either a solid hit or miss with viewers, not the kind of film you walk away from saying, “Yeah, that was okay.”
The story begins in the Middle Ages, where One-Eye (Mads Mikkelsen chewing up the scenery without saying a single word the entire movie) is a slave to a pagan clan in Scotland, forced to fight thralls from other clans for money. When he breaks free, he and a boy (who can speak for him) fall in with a group of Crusaders on their way to the Holy Land. Instead, their longship takes them far from any known destination, where they’re assailed by natives, the elements, visions, and their own conflicting interpretations of who One-Eye is and why they’re here.
There’s something to the story, though it’s up to you to find it. The story is basically very simple, though the way it’s told leaves plenty to interpretation, elevates the basic plot to something mythic. Is One-Eye a manifestation of Odin? What is the purpose of the sacrifice in the last act? What was the meaning of the visions? Was their journey to America a loving act of completion for each of the men, or a brutal fathering?
Regardless, the visuals alone were compelling enough to keep me watching. The landscapes weren’t beautiful so much as harsh and brutal, uncaring whether men trod on them. The score was great.
In a lot of ways, I think this movie influenced MANDY. It has a similar storytelling structure, pacing, attention to visuals, and score. While I got a kick out of MANDY, I have to say for me VALHALLA RISING was far more powerful, if puzzling.