Film Review – Valhalla Rising

I’d just like to take a moment to point out that this film officially takes place in 1000 A.D. That’s from the writer-director, Refn. The First Crusade didn’t begin until the end of the 11th century, let alone any other. Glad I got that out.

A dense fog envelops the long boat, and the crew drifts for days over impossibly still water. One of the Crusaders, convinced that the boy is to blame—apparently with the sub-textual reasoning being that nobody was molesting him anymore—tries to kill the kid, but is, inversely, killed by One-Eye. All the Crusaders look at each other and pretty much shrug and say, “Fair enough,” and call the whole scenario a draw.

The crew reaches land. Only this isn’t the stereotypical desert they were expecting. There are forests and ferns and lakes and Native American burial mounds. They have landed in America. Psychotropic drugs, a Crusader raping another Crusader (which the boy watches, only to further insinuate something unclear), rock towers, a boring fight, and Asian men credited as ‘Indian’ later, the story ends.

The part of the film that cripples a positive viewing experience most is the division of the story into seven chapters. Every time a title card appeared to begin a new chapter, the life and flow from the limp narrative is sucked away. The fact that One-Eye has no goal, and that the viewer is meant to view him as the protagonist, suggests that the film as a whole should be viewed as seven shorts. It just doesn’t work. Without a defining goal for the protagonist, each episode feels as lost as the characters feel while they drift improbably smoothly across the Atlantic.

The truth is, the film is shot beautifully. Its intention is to keep the story sparse and focus on the metaphorical nature of these characters. I’m sure that everything in the story makes sense and has deep, possibly even religious, meaning to the filmmaker and everyone else involved in the film. The passion for filmmaking as a craft oozes off the screen. While this is no masterwork for any technical aspect of filmmaking, the cinematography and directing of the slave-fight scenes at the film’s start are interesting and well done. The photography throughout is simply beautiful. However, as one might be so repugnant as to assume from the above synopsis, the story is weakened severely by extraneous elements that should have been cut out many drafts before filming.

If what you desire from film is a few quiet moments to self-reflect on your own inadequacies as a human being while looking at beautifully shot images that are at times grotesque, this will be your favorite movie. If you expect something more, don’t waste your time.

Final Grade: D-

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Clayton Schuster is a film lover and student living and studying in California’s Bay Area. His beard is listed as a tax write-off, he chases hard liquor with beer and chases beer with women and he can make the best damn guacamole this side of the Mississippi.

You can reach Clayton via email, he doesn’t have time for Twitter.

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