I very rarely have a cinematic experience worth raving about to everyone, but I have seen one that everyone who appreciates gritty realism with dabs of the mystical should experience. It’s a Danish film called “Valhalla Rising” and it’s probably the most curious case of mismarketing I’ve come across.
The trailer, given below, would probably have you believe that it’s a blockbuster action film, filled with blood n’ guts n’ glory. Now it is that…but these furious snippets come in so short (albeit intense) bursts that it really can only be appreciated by those with greater attention spans and possibly under the (ahem) “influence” of certain herbs. Hey, it’s not called an acid film for nothing.
Since this is an art house film that was billed as an action blockbuster, it suffered some pretty unfair criticisms as a result. An audience expecting a Viking “300” but instead getting a brooding, unflinchingly realistic piece of stunning visual poetry (think David Fincher meets Stanley Kubrick meets Terrence Malick and you’ll get the idea) might be pretty disappointed.
It takes place primarily in an unnamed area of Denmark in 1000 A.D. The movie is slow in terms of action and plot, but fast in intellect and in craftsmanship. It meditates on foggy mountaintops bereft of signs of humanity and painstakingly detailed shots crammed with symbolism. The realism comes from everything to its authentic scenery to its grunting, sparse dialogue. Whereas most films would light every single perfect-looking expensive actor on its payroll, this works with natural lighting and with grimy, mud-caked actors in a way folks would’ve looked before hygiene and dental care. Of course, insects buzz around the camera to give it a nice touch, and it gave me an impression of the level of care that went into making it. As one reviewer said, most medieval era films merely approximate the feeling of “being there,” but this film rips “you out of time and drops you there.”
Anyway, just go watch.