Valhalla Rising movie posterTrailer.

Saw this on Netflix Streaming in HD. It’s a movie with as much to dislike as like. It’s an interesting film worth talking about.

First

The Netflix description of the film is flat wrong. Rather than quote it and continue the misinformation, here’s a proper description:

Enslaved gladitorial fighter, owned by a pagan Viking tribe, escapes then through happenstance joins Christian Vikings en route to Jerusalem on a crusade. Their longboat is lost and ends up on an island populated by savage natives.

Look

This is the most beautifully shot film I’ve seen in a long time. You must watch it in HD because the landscape and photography are art pieces in and of themselves and the framing is excellent—in needs widescreen format. One could almost just pick random frames from the movie and call it an art piece. It’s rich and lush despite the bleakness of the actual landscape.

In particular I have to call out the extraordinarily good lighting. It couples both on-set and post-production work to create showpieces of striking visual impact. Good, professional, eyes made this film.

Speaking of eyes

Valhalla Rising One-EyeThe lead character, named One-Eye, has no speaking lines. In fact, not more than a few sentences are spoken at all by anyone for the first 12 minutes of the film despite clear initiation and progress of the film’s plot, and that trend continues with not much said by anyone for (comparatively) long stretches of time.

Bold move, to be sure, and it works. The actor is good and a lot is portrayed visually, and well. It may seem like a deficiency that the plot is simple enough that the lead doesn’t need to speak but that’s not the case. The beginning of the movie tells a good story very well with the minimum possible dialogue even from supporting characters.

Fight!

The fighting in the movie is brutal. One-Eye is a brutally efficient, vicious killer. So when violence busts out, it’s horrific and memorable.

Escape

After his escape the film sets up an interesting premise: A ship full of Vikings on a crusade who become lost in a fog and end up…where? They don’t know, but they do know that it’s hostile.

And here’s where the film begins to unravel. Worse, it takes forever to do so because the film moves at such a terribly glacial pace that it feels like a grind. I must hastily point out that I’m a fan of slow burn movies. Let the Right One In is a recent example of a film that takes sweet, delicious time.

But that film is worth it. This film is not.

I read later that the director originally intended the film to be kind of an acid trip. It shows. It shows hard. I was often left wondering what exactly was going on. The main character has visions, but is One-Eye remembering something, dreaming something, or predicting something? It’s not too much of a spoiler for me to briefly mention that the Christian Vikings begin behaving…oddly. Why? There was no explanation—but more important there was no reason for it either. None of it needed to happen, and when it did it didn’t have to happen to that degree in order to get whatever point it was trying to make. I think?

I ask because, honestly, I’m not sure the movie had a point to make. That’s fine, not all do of course, but those that don’t (say, an action film or a rom-com) fill that gap with the sweet cotton candy of gratuitous entertainments.

Alas, Valhalla Rising lacks both leaving…pretty pictures and a compelling main character with nothing to do, I guess.

Did you hear that?

Sometimes the soundtrack is wonderful. Other times, particularly post-escape, the music is horribly wrong, anachronistic, and singularly awful. It’s not often that my attention is particularly drawn to the soundtrack—I’m content to enjoy it in the background where it’s usually found. But Valhalla Rising‘s soundtrack pulled me right out of the film and seemed to out of its way to annoy and be specifically inappropriate.

Final Recommendation

The film is conveniently divided into discrete parts—complete with full-screen title cards announcing each piece. I strongly recommend viewing the first two parts of this film. You won’t regret the decision. Beautiful, brutish, engaging, and interesting with a silent character. Hardly any dialogue to the film at all.

Then stop. Leave with a positive impression of the film before it ruins itself. 🙂

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