Review: Valhalla Rising (2009)

Review by Topo Sanchez
SCUM Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Nicholas Winding Refn. Remember this name. For this is the name that will gently rest on the cinephile’s lips, then tear its way right into the heart. And that’s exactly what Valhalla Rising is — quiet violence, graceful brutality, controlled madness. Nicholas is a master in juxtaposition, a visual juggler of sorts.

Valhalla Rising tells the story of a one-eyed, mute warrior (Mads Mikkelsen) who is enslaved by a Nordic tribe, and used like a fighting animal for their own entertainment. Though badly beaten and weary, he remains undefeated and unbroken in spirit. When he finally breaks the shackles (along with the tribesmen’s necks) to regain freedom, he finds himself travelling with the only person that has ever remotely cared for him, a boy (Maarten Stevenson).

However, the pair soon found themselves in the company of renegade Christians on a crusade, seeking to overthrow the pagans and start the New Jerusalem. Hearing about One-Eye’s prowess, they decide to take him along their journey to find the new kingdom.

What follows next is like watching an LSD trip unfold — vast beautiful scottish landscape backed by a minimal, twisted droning soundscape, peppered by gooey black mud and exploding blood splatters. You’d feel like a shaman entering a trance, but with a cooler soundtrack. Is this really the new kingdom (Heaven), or is it really Hell? You decide.

Valhalla Rising is a masterpiece in every way possible, from cinematography, scripting, costume design, all the way to the fight choreography. Special mention must be made about the sound production — silence, when used correctly, can be deafeningly effective.

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About The Author

As a child, Topo Sanchez filled his little head with the great mysteries of UFOs, Bigfoots and bearded women as bedtime stories. His first revelation came about while watching El Topo, when he realized that two freaks became normal if they combined. So he figured if three combined, they would be superheroes (hence the birth of SCUM). His first words to his mom were 'Klaatu Barada Nikto!'

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