Valhalla Rising: Alienation at its finest
This is an intimidating and off-putting movie, stripped of almost everything that movies usually possess to immerse their audience in their world. But this alienating lack of comfort is in its own way fascinating. It's only when the usual comforting elements of a film are absent that you really notice how used to them you are.
For instance, I was surprised how unsettled I was at the almost complete lack of dialogue in this movie. It's not until 7 minutes into this movie that a line of dialogue is said, and long stretches of time pass without anything being said. This means you have to rely almost entirely on merely what you see onscreen, attempting to analyze the actions of characters whose motives are not at all clear. While this might sound like downsides, this stripping down of the movie throws the viewer fully into the story, simultaneously alienating and immersing us.
The central character of this story is One Eye, a mute Norse slave owned by a pagan tribe who has him fight other slaves for entertainment. After he is sold to another tribe, One Eye breaks free and slaughters his former captors, only sparing Are (Maarten Stevenson), a young boy who was a fellow slave. The two wander, eventually encountering a band of Viking Christians who mean to go on a Crusade to the holy land, who allow the two to accompany them. However, the group gets lost in a fog, and end up in a strange new world where they begin to go mad, wander apart, and occasionally be attacked by unseen natives who pepper them with arrows.
As I've mentioned, this film is intimidatingly stripped down. This means that we are never told why characters do certain things, leading to speculation and ambiguity. If you cannot handle this, and need to be told what a story means in order to get something out of it, this may not be the film for you. I personally was able to deal with it, although I wish the ending of the film was a bit clearer.
This film is also infrequently extremely brutally violent. One Eye especially is a brutal fighter when he decides to be. Although violence would probably only make up maybe five to ten minutes of an hour and a half long movie, when the violence does happen it is incredibly brutal.
However, if you can get through the violence and the stripped down nature of the story, this is a film of spare and quiet beauty. Watching these men stumble around the new world they discover makes its relatively familiar looking greenery (the film was shot in Scotland) seem like it's from another planet. It's fascinating watching the Crusaders crack as they realize how far from home they are, and find they are unable to agree as to what to do now. Once you get into it, it is near impossible to look away from this fascinating film. I recommend it to anyone who feels they can handle it.