Oh my oh my, i think i may have just watched one of my favourite films of the year! Please don’t look at the cover and think this is a 300, Gladiator and Braveheart rip off, it is ABSOLUTLY nothing like them and the background scene on the cover isn’t even in the film. Whoever created that cover should be shot as its possibly THE most mis-leading cover in movie history.
Valhalla Rising is a nightmare, a passionate, unrelenting nightmare that could easily sit with some of the best horrors ever made. Our main character is a mute, he doesn’t speak one word throughout the entire film, just coldly stares through his one eye, thinking, plotting, dealing with his savage demons. The fact he says nothing makes him all the more unsettling and gives him one of the biggest screen presences i have witnessed fro some time. He is named “One Eye” by a little blonde boy who becomes him companion and his voice. One of his eyes has been ripped out in battle somewhere. The film is broken up into segments, and the first segment is the most brutal and has some of the most shocking violence i have seen all year. One Eye is literally a caged animal, chained up in a large cage when his clan are not on the move, when they are on the move he is kept at a distance by large sticks being held by the clansmen, and he has rope tied around his neck. Basically, the clansmen are shit scared of him because he is one of the toughest fighters alive. What they do, as they travel across what looks like the Highlands of Scotland, is use One Eye to fight in brutal, planned battles with other Clans in order to win bets. He never looses because “he is driven by hate”. In his fights, to ensure everyone’s safety, he is tied, by the neck, to a large pole placed in the centre of the fight area, and he will take on as many men that are thrown at him. Mads Mikkelsen does a truly wonderful job at portraying this troubled brute and seriously, the fights are shocking.
Part 2 “The Silent Warrior” sees One Eye escape, with the hlep of a blonde lad who is part of the Clan and further on they meet another Clan who plan to reclaim the Holy Land. One Eye eventually joins them after many stare-offs and square ups. This new Clan know his reputation so are very careful how they handle him, and the boy speaks for him. Off they set to the Holy Land on a ship, though eerie mists and haunting images. I don’t want to spoil anymore of the story, so i won’t.
Now, let me make one thing clear! This is unlike any warrior type film i have ever seen. It is a work of art, in fact, i woul go so far to say this is Arthouse Cinema at its finest. There is very basic conversations with long pauses and not much is said in the film at all. You can easily go ten minutes before anyone says a word. And so, what we have to carry the film is some beautiful, yet scary images of the mist engulfed countryside, or Highlands as it looks like. The atmosphere is cold and full of hate. The journey across the sea in the boat is unsettling as hell as a dense fog blinds their view, its haunting and the colouring makes the whole things very claustrophobic. One of the men on the boat earlier asked where One Eye was from, and after some deep thought, the young boy tells him “he’s from Hell”. When the man on the boat asks if One Eye has lead them to Hell, a sense of sheer panic will engulf you, the film really is that powerful.
So, wonderful landscapes, superb acting, violent fights and a mysterious warrior, could it get any better? Hell yes! The music, which is probably the second most important character in the film, is truly mesmerising, cinematic, dramatic in places, dark, disturbing and moody in others, but never shying away from literally putting you on the very edge of your seat. I cannot remember a film in recent years that has created such atmosphere through its use of music. There is brilliance on offer here, genius in fact. And the slow pacing only helps to draw you into this devastating world.
One Eye, we learn through bright red flashbacks, has been through some troubles in his past, and whilst nothing is really made clear, it obvious he is now pretty much emotionless, a killing machine looking for some way to redeem himself. Its both unsettling, and at times very sad to see this tortured soul sat there, lost in his own personal Hell. It does slow down dramatically toward the end, and maybe become a little too action less for some, but i loved it and thought this was one of the most impressive films i have seen in ages, both emotionally, physically and in its whole highly original design. A one off masterpiece that will easily stick in your head and haunt you for a long time after viewing