Depending on who you ask, Tony Stone’s indie Viking epic “Severed Ways: The Norse Discovery of America” is either sublime or utterly confounding. Viewers who missed the film in theaters earlier this year have the chance to decide for themselves: the film is out on DVD this week courtesy of Magnet Releasing.
The New York Times’ Manohla Dargis, who describes “Severed Ways” as “part art-cinema oddity, part home-movie extravaganza” wrote in her review of the film: “Though there’s no doubt that Mr. Stone is as serious as a heart attack when it comes to creating an air of authenticity — hence the sloppily butchered chickens and authorial defecation — he never settles on a coherent tone for the movie… In one scene Mr. Stone manages to invoke Werner Herzog; in the next his characters are running around like costumed geeks at a comic-book convention.”
“That said,” Dargis continues, “American independent cinema could use more young filmmakers who go off the story grid. Far too many, having embraced the workshop maxim ‘write what you know’ with grave literalness, seem to believe (wrongly) that their first loves, screwy families and adolescences merit their own movies. Yet in drawing heavily from their lives, few end up being able to transcend the narrow confines of their stories, to push past the realm of the self… If nothing else, Mr. Stone, from his tangled hair to dirty feet, has taken himself and his story into the beyond — way, way beyond.”
“Should someone have stopped Tony Stone before he spent months in the Vermont wilderness resurrecting the age of Leif Ericson with a couple of helmets and a moody MP3 player? Does a Viking shit in the woods? The answer to both questions is (a graphically depicted) yes, but, still, a ‘gritty debut feature’ about two Norsemen lost in Greenland doesn’t come along every day,” noted Nicolas Rapold for the Village Voice. “Shot in dizzy-making handheld HD by sylvan light, and slangily subtitled, the film is a kind of earnest stunt, like the soundtrack’s niche-courting black-metal bliss-outs. But the spectacle of two dudes mucking about in the primal forest becomes tedious as Stone embraces a ’70s dippiness that evokes the worst of The Hired Hand, leans hard on Brian Eno, and indulges in retro-sounding waterlogged audio.”
“A chest-thumping, head-pounding, axe-wielding tromp through the wilderness, ‘Severed Ways’ is the unexpected, frankly unsolicited cinematic spawn of Werner Herzog and heavy-metal album cover art,” wrote Eric Hynes in his review for indieWIRE. “But rather than parody, the film is a sincere valentine to leaden dramatics and brute manliness, a paean for a simpler, sillier, hairier historical moment. Director Tony Stone’s stroke of strange genius is to conflate metal culture with its favored pagan iconography, asserting a continuum between unkempt warmongers and sweaty head-bangers. As a Norse duo marooned in the New World, Stone and Fiore Tedesco (irrelevantly named Orn and Volnard) are the Dave Mustaine and James Hetfield of the eleventh century, brooding blonde and brunette archetypes destined to break up, make up and rock hard.”
DVD Verdict has a review up for the film’s DVD release. “You will rarely find as big a fan of Vikings as me (digression: track down and read Bernard Cornwell’s Saxon Tales series of books),” writes David Johnson, “but there is nothing here that floats my boat. In fact, ‘Severed Ways’ burns my boat and sinks it.” He also notes: “The film looks fine in its 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer, though the colors don’t pop as much as I’d expect from a work so heavily dependent on flora and scenery. The 5.1 surround splits its duty between ‘leaves crunching underfoot’ and ‘bizarre heavy metal soundtrack.’ Extras offer little of substance: two deleted scenes and some random, ambient footage of nature, the church-burning scene, and Newfoundland.”
Blogcritics is similarly harsh in its assessment of the DVD: “‘Severed Ways: The Norse Discovery Of America’ makes its way to DVD (unfortunately) from Magnet Releasing and Magnolia Home Entertainment, who probably should have accidentally dropped this one behind the filing cabinet. Nevertheless, it’s here, in all of its homemade camcorder glory. The image has been matted to a 2.35:1 ratio, so there is considerable information loss at the top and bottom of the screen — but it’s of no consequence seeing as how the whole picture is shaky anyway. The Norse 5.1 soundtrack fares better with its music more than anything, while the awkwardly dubbed dialogue comes through sounding as canned as can be. Burned-in English subtitles translate the ridiculous dialogue, adding to the nausea. Finally, in what I can only assume to be an attempt to disorient and disillusion our Latin American brothers and sisters, Spanish subtitles are included.”
Watch the trailer for “Severed Ways” on YouTube.