Valhalla Rising 2009 ★★★★★

Valhalla Rising is pure brutalizing stimulating. There is nothing easy about it, but it is a thought-provoking treat for all who have an open mind. A layered thematic exploration of spirituality, religion, and the dark depths of human nature. While it does deal heavily with religion, it is not a religious film. Instead it examines the nature of religion and why people cling so tightly to the hopes of divine purposes, afterlife, and evil. Mads Mikkelsen plays One-Eye - the only named character in the entire film - a mysterious mute Norse warrior. He is covered with as many tattoos as he has scars, and is unbeatable in battle. Yet there is much hinted at and even more left unexplained about him. Mikkelsen is haunting in his dialogue-less role, and the supernatural mysteries of his character provide food-for-thought aplenty. Nicolas Winding Refn's direction, along with Morten Soborg's mesmerizing cinematography, create dark, landscape-driven settings - shot entirely in Scotland - and One-Eye's eery and visually creepy dream sequences that become the other characters of the film. Winding Refn moves away from gritty crime thrillers and reaches a new height with this highly experimental mind-strainer.

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