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The odd mash up of Christian mythology and imagery alongside Gaelic and Native American backdrops, makes for some interesting scenes in Valhalla Rising. One of the remaining heathen tribes of somewhere in the U.K., hounded by the burgeoning Christian converts, keeps a Viking slave. The unimaginatively named One-Eye (a grotesquely made-up, filthy Mads Mikklesen, unrecognizable from his suave Le Chiffre) spends his days as more of a fighting dog than a man. Caged, scarred, tattooed and silent, One-Eye shortly escapes after a few displays of his furious brutality. The scenes are brief enough but gruesome in their simplicity, particularly the evisceration.

Mikklesen and his companion find a tribe ready to invade Jerusalem during the Crusades. The bumbling group manages to lose themselves at sea, and wait as prayers to God go unanswered. The film makes no bones about its morality, the leader exposed as clearly a land grabbing, money hungry charlatan, brandishing his religion to spur his dubious soldiers. Lost in a new land, dying of starvation and just barely hydrated after their time at sea, the party quickly falls apart. Their fresh tormentors, clear to the viewer and possibly to One-Eye, set upon them without mercy.

Bold red titles announce the chapters of the film, such as “Hell,” “The Holy Land” and “The Sacrifice,” fittingly. A great deal is made of Mikklesen both being from and leading the party into Hell, which only makes sense in the context of their fortunes since taking him on with them. One-Eye does little to alleviate this assessment in his everlasting silence. In the end even I couldn’t tell if they were in Hell of the New World, really.

Director Nicolas Winding Refn keeps the scenery oppressively open, barren and bleak. The whole of the world looks constantly on the verge of storms. No sort of civilization ever appears to tame men such as One-Eye, his captors or the men of God looking to usurp others’ lands. Everyone simply wanders with only vaguely stated purpose. The film seems to do this as well, and while it looks appealing in a macabre sense (outside of some terribly done fake blood) the lack of objective keeps the film from becoming entirely engrossing. 3 stars

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