Valhalla Rising -- Film Review

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TORONTO -- A change of pace for the Danish director of the cult "Pusher" trilogy, "Valhalla Rising" is set in that rich yet cinematically seldom-explored era during which the pagans of Northern Europe were being overrun and replaced by an upstart novelty, Christianity.

IFC bought the film here at Toronto, but one is hard-pressed to imagine who the audience might be for this actually quite mesmerizing film. Its violence is way too intense for the art film crowd, and its glacial pacing and fascination with brooding on nothing will surely alienate those who've come for the blood and guts.

One-Eye (Mads Mikkelsen, star of the first two "Pusher" films) is a half-man, half-beast figure of amazing ferocity who wins money, like a fighting cock or a pit bull, for his pagan overlords. He is very, very good at wreaking mayhem, and loves to split open the skulls of his opponents until the wet matter runs out. One day he turns on his captors and, after wiping them out in ultra-gory ways, takes off for parts unknown with a young boy who been feeding him each day. They eventually come upon a group of crazed Christians who are seeking to join the Crusade in Palestine, some for the love of God, others for the love of the booty that beckons. They wander endlessly in very picturesque locations until virtually everyone is mysteriously killed, one by one. Then the film ends.

One-Eye does not say a single word in the film, and the other characters aren't exactly loquacious either. There is a great deal of intense close-ups as characters stare off meaningfully into the distance while the camera spins around them. But we never find out what they are thinking about. Gestures are deliberate and stylized, as though from a Japanese Noh play. The gorgeous primitive scenery seems straight out of a Terrence Malick movie, and the powerful, brooding music is even better, perhaps the best thing in it. But the film lacks even a hint of a plot and, aside from an occasional very swift murder perpetrated by unknowns, virtually nothing happens.
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