Valhalla Rising

a review by Steve Cameron

Distributor: Madman
Year: 2009
Language: English

Valhalla Rising: A thousand years ago, a mute warrior is held prisoner by a Norse chieftain. In desolate and bleak mountains he is made to fight other slaves to the death in gladiatorial-type games. Finally able to rebel, he slays his captors and heads into the wilderness, accompanied by a young boy who names the warrior “One Eye”. In the middle of nowhere they stumble across a band of Christian warriors, who invite the pair to join them on a quest to liberate the Holy Land. The Viking longboat they travel in, however, becomes caught in a calm sea and completely engulfed in a mysterious fog. After finally coming to rest in an unknown land, they decide to continue their trek. But what are the dangers that lurk in the forest, await their every move and threaten to kill them all. And should they be more concerned about the menace from within?

This film will polarise audiences – and it’s easy to see why. The setting, the people and the tale are all bleak, extremely bleak. A Danish-British co-production filmed in Scotland, it uses that location well, and has the sense of space and moody hopelessness that so often accompanies Scandinavian cinema. The cinematography is stunning – very beautiful, a visual feast. And there’s blood. Lots of it. Personally, I don’t really like too much gore in a film, but I wasn’t concerned by the violence in this film. It seemed right, and certainly wasn’t gratuitous at all. The narrative is divided into a number of chapters, each encompassing a section of the journey. The acting was first rate throughout, from “One Eye” (apparently a Danish star named Mads Mikkelsen) to the young boy (Maarten Stevenson). In many ways, Valhalla Rising reminded me of a Viking retelling of Heart of Darkness (filmed as Apocalypse Now). And I found myself pondering the movie for the next few days. This is one I will return to in the coming days.

Previously published in Dark Matter issue 4, July 2011, blog post predated to reflect the original publication date.

Cover: © 2009 Valhalla Rights APS, One Eye Productions, Blind Eye Productions, Scanbox. All Rights Reserved.