Nichlas Winding Refn can be a very polarizing director; he very much makes arthouse pictures which at times can be screamingly tedious but with stunning visuals that stick with you long after watching.
I think my personal faviourite film of his is Bronson starring Tom Hardy in one of his finest performances to date however, Valhalla Rising comes a close second.
It’s set in 11th-century Scandinavia, where an enslaved man dubbed One Eye (Mads Mikkelsen) because of an old facial wound stages a violent uprising against those who imprisoned him. One Eye links up with Eirik (Ewan Stewart) and other Christian fanatics who aim to use their muscle to spread God’s word. Headed for Jerusalem, One Eye and his shipmates must cope with crew infighting and attacks from the coastline. But the journey’s challenges are only a harbinger of even greater brutality.
One Eye is mute throughout the entire film so as with most Refn films you can expect several scenes involving people staring into the distance for extended periods.
Valhalla Rising is one of the most brutal movies you’ll see with shocking scenes of violence which is essentially what keeps things moving as you are unsure what horrrors await the group wherever they go.
Although he could be seen as a silent hero/warrior One Eye could also be a demon who is taking the men to Hell as some assume he is.
We get some very surreal and disturbing images and at times certain characters are bathed in an ethereal light giving the film a genuinely otherworldly look. It is a visual feast for the eyes with stunning cinematography so even if you don’t know what the Hell is going on, at least it looks nice.
The pacing won’t be for everyone but for me it’s a haunting tale and the fact that it was filmed in Scotland makes me like it even more as it adds to the whole moody atmosphere.
It’s well acted and Mads must have loved playing such an enigmatic character who only speaks with his facial expressions. The young boy who essentially becomes his adopted son feels like One Eye’s redemption giving the story its heart.
As I said this will not be for everyone but it’s on Netflix now and worth a watch if you are looking for challenging viewing.