I'm convinced that anyone giving the film itself a low rating were not really watching the movie. Valhalla Rising is an extraordinary arthouse experience that will undoubtedly bore most viewers, and leave the remainder of us watchers enraptured with it. This cinema experience has easily become one of my favorite movies of all time. That's saying a lot for someone in their mid-30's who's seen a LOT of movies.
A story of an imprisoned mute savage in the remote highlands of pagan Scotland, forced to fight other men for the entertainment of his gambling captors, viking savages themselves and clearly not native to the land they call home. Named One-Eye by the boy that brings him stew in his cell, he eventually slaughters his captors except for the boy, at which point they encounter a traveling group of crusaders bound for Jerusalem with the intent of liberating the Holy Land.
Venturing by boat, their vessel becomes victim of the Atlantic horse latitudes causing them to drift for weeks on end where they begin to go insane. Eventually arriving at land that is clearly not Israel, they soon find themselves stalked by invisible natives and further losing their minds, driving them to question the faith that brought them there and causing suspicion of the accompanying One-Eye, labeling him a blight and a demon due to his silence, and quick and controlled rage.
Having hardly any dialog, Valhalla Rising is slow, but it's cerebral and anarchic. One of the most brazenly anti-religious films I've ever seen with violence that is realistic, disturbing, and simultaneously hypnotic. I've read that this film caused a good deal of religious vitriol in Europe, and knowing it was picked up by IFC in the States, I'm anxious to see what kind of reaction it garners in this country.
Regarding picture quality, Valhalla Rising will never be considered reference material for anyone's high definition setup, but it does still look amazing. Mostly due to the cinematography, which is breathtaking in almost every respect. From the bleak mist in Scotland to the searing mist in the doldrums and finally the wilderness of Newfoundland. The color palette is stylized to the Nth degree, hallucinogenic and involving. I'm honestly hard pressed to think of a film with as unique a look as this one, and while it's likely representative of Nicolas Winding Refn's vision, it likely could have come out just a tad better. Don't take that as complaint, though.
The audio, also, is great. The movie as a whole is exceptionally quiet, with short bits of dialog interspersed between long moments of silence and occasionally subject to the clamor of the masterfully simplistic original score, that perfectly suits the mood of the film.
The supplements on the disc are few, including a trailer, making of documentary, and a commentary track with the director and journalist Alan Jones, that I look forward to hearing while watching the film again. I wish some more had been included, even while I'm not generally the type to get too critical over missing extras, in this case they would have been welcomed.
Clearly, this is a movie that I loved watching. Not just for the cinematography, or for the unrelenting violence. The entire experience is what I look to films for in general. Films that raise questions about morality, religion, sanity are always welcomed, especially when they're done in such a simplistic yet elegant light as with Valhalla Rising. I honestly don't know if I'll see a better movie this year, even considering some of the inconsistencies of the disc itself, it's a film that's burrowed itself into my head and I can't stop contemplating what I've seen. I can't recommend this movie enough.