One thing that’s worth mentioning at the start of this review is that the sleeve for the DVD is in no way representative of the film. If you’re expecting one man going up against hordes of people with shields and helmets, you’ll be sorely disappointed. This isn’t a balls-to-the-wall swords and sandals action epic. It’s much more introspective and contemplative film than the sleeve would lead you to believe.
It explores themes of religion, specifically the infancy of Christianity and how it was sold to various factions, the Vikings’ discovery of America, as well as one man’s journey from an animalistic slave to a freed warrior, joining forces with a band of Christian Vikings who are bound for Jerusalem but end up in America.
Mads Mikkelsen is fantastic as the warrior One Eye. With his character being mute he has no dialogue, but through his actions he makes a compelling protagonist. There are no complaints with the supporting cast either, and although there’s little dialogue in the film their performances are all of a high standard.
From his work to date (last year’s Bronson, for example), it’s clear that Winding Refn has a visual flair, and for a budget of around $3.5 million he has produced a film that achieves a far more realistic look and feel than similar pieces with vastly superior funds.
Shot entirely on location in Scotland, the landscapes are as hostile and unwelcoming as the characters that inhabit them, but there’s a great beauty in the way that that Winding Refn has shot the film. The film has a mostly muted colour pallet, apart from the dream scenes that feature red heavily.
Suppressing any use of red in a film’s colour pallet is a tactic that’s employed by a number of films, specifically horror films reliant on gore, to make scenes the bloodier moments all the more striking. It’s used to excellent effect here, and while the film isn’t wall to wall blood and guts – the use of violence is by no means excessive or gratuitous – there are scenes of violence in which you feel every blow, and the consequences are very real.
There’s very little dialogue or score in the film, so the viewer is left to take in the images on screen. There are ambient sounds that occasionally break up the silence, but when the music does kick in towards the end of the film, it’s a brilliant moment. I found it interesting to hear that Mogwai were originally considered to provide a score but were unable to do so due to schedule conflicts. Winding Refn instead returned to Peter Peter and Peter Kyed, the team that composed the music for The Pusher Trilogy.
Huge credit should also go to the makeup department, as the look of the characters is absolutely fantastic. They look as though they have lived the lives of warriors, with days and months of mud and dried blood all over their clothes and bodies. Such attention to detail is a huge credit to the film.
It’s a bold, confident and challenging piece of work that isn’t going to appeal to everyone, and it certainly doesn’t make any attempt to appeal to the masses. It demands absolute attention from its audience and rewards repeat viewings. It’s near impossible to pick up on all the subtext on first viewing, and it could easily be taken a number of different ways depending on how the material is interpreted. For those who give it the time and attention it deserves, it will prove to be a rewarding piece of work.
There’s a theatrical trailer for the film, as well as a behind the scenes documentary that runs for 20 minutes. The documentary has several moments of interest, mainly in the sections where the director discusses how he strove to find areas of Scotland so remote there would be little sign of life. However, there’s too much focus on various crew members in down time that, for me, was a little dull. Ideally I would have liked more on the making of the film.
There’s also a feature length commentary with Winding Refn and journalist Alan Jones that plays out more like an extended interview. It’s a little dry at times, but gives a lot of information on the making of the film and the themes explored. I would highly recommend anyone who has seen the film to listen to the commentary as it answers a lot of the questions raised in the film that are left largely open to interpretation.
Valhalla Risingis out now and available from the Den Of Geek Store.