Not long into Nicolas Winding Refn’s new Viking film, Valhalla Rising, the main character, the mute and mutilated One-Eye (Mads Mikkelsen), beheads an opponent with the rope that tethers the cyclopean brute to a post in the ground. Shortly after that, he bashes in a skull with a rock, sending brain pulp the furthest afield it’s been since the fire-extinguisher scene in Irreversible. Much of Valhalla Rising plays out as so many Mortal Kombat fatalities; you can practically hear the cowriter-director’s off-screen shouts of “Finish him!” The rest is pure mood—a preposterously doomy blast of nonsense. The Middle Ages–set film is an ambitious but insufferably self-serious slo-mo death-knell, hypothetically ballasted by some ridiculous roots-of-American-duplicity material. Read Benjamin Mercer’s review of Valhalla Rising.
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