Valhalla Rising

The story of a mute, one-eyed Viking makes for unexpectedly compelling viewing.

The story of a mute, one-eyed Viking born a thousand years ago, Valhalla Rising was never likely to attract a large audience. Add to the unusual subject and the bleak northern European setting an opening 20 minutes that include a disembowelling and a freshly decapitated head being placed on a spike, and the sound of the film's potential audience dwindling is as audible as the bitter mountain wind. But anyone left watching will be in for a treat. From Nicolas Winding Refn, the Danish filmmaker behind the equally harsh and uncompromising Bronson, this movie sees a slave who becomes known as One Eye (Mads Mikkelsen) forced to fight others to the death. As he becomes increasingly efficient at killing and numb to its consequences, it's only a matter of time before he slays his keepers and takes back his freedom. In an era when the Norse beliefs of old are being challenged by the spread of Christianity, One Eye quickly discovers that the misty highlands are no easy place to be a free man. In both the film's main narrative and its subtext, there are similarities with Werner Herzog's doomed conquistador epic, Aguirre, Wrath of God, but rather than feeling derivative, Valhalla Rising is actually worthy of the comparison. Impossibly bleak in both appearance and tone, every moment simmers with unpredictability and danger. While some will find this experience unpleasant, many others will feel just the opposite.