The austere world of 1000 AD looks an awful lot like Braveheart’s Scotland. Valhalla Rising is nothing like a Mel Gibson film though. Instead, director Nicolas Winding Refn gives Valhalla an overall sensibility that it feels like it should be in a museum, each frame of the film separately indicated alongside each other on the bare white walls. Scan your eye across the whole room really fast and you’ll have created the flickering film image right in front of your eyes. Refn might have colored each of the frames by hand they look so deeply saturated and dark. Nearly every skyline has thick, viscous clouds hanging in it, and nearly every horizon has black mountains which attempt to choke the blue sky.
Like a museum, the film is presented in sections, time periods almost, for the trajectory of this film feels much larger than its letting on. There are six chapters (sadly, I assumed this number when watching because what other number really seems so threatening?). Each chapter is named after something almost akin to Lars Von Trier’s Antichrist; they are: Wrath, Silent Warrior, Men of God, The Holy Land, Hell, and The Sacrifice.
The film is really more an effort in visual presence and less than impressive on story or concept. We’ve seen it all before really: lone Viking (ok, maybe the Viking part is new), with the power and irreverence of an antihero; threatening in the greatest of ways; but, also becoming a pseudo father figure for a young boy who neither seems afraid of nor looks up to him. You can almost tell this boy has every bit the potential to grow into the very warrior he follows so closely throughout the film.
Watch Valhalla because it’s slick, stylized, and cool in that European-tinged-violent way, where you’ll just recall a couple scenes that were most striking, not because you think you’re going to even remember it’s meaning the next day.