After the increasingly black comic violence of his Pusher trilogy and Bronson, Danish director Nicholas Winding Refn—who apparently never got over A Clockwork Orange—goes left-field with Valhalla Rising, a movie as maddeningly ponderous and self-important as its black-metal title. As with Robert Zemeckis’s recent Beowulf, Refn is inexplicably fixated on the conflict between virtuous pagans and hypocritical, self-respect-destroying Christians during the Viking era; specifically, mute warrior One-Eye (Mads Mikkelsen) versus all kinds of Christian scum. This is full-on portentous allegory, with One-Eye ironically ending up martyred as an alternate pagan Christ, while hypocritical Christians proselytize, then get picked off by unseen hillside savages. There’s a vague Lars von Trier–ish feeling hanging over the whole movie, not just in the unflinching yet weirdly comic gore (and red-tinted dream sequences that are sub-Kingdom), but in the ridiculously weighty chapter titles (“Chapter V: Hell,” “Chapter VI: The Sacrifice”). Frequently dull and stupidly obvious, you nonetheless have to applaud the misguided ambition of Refn’s career turn. If nothing else, as the metal guitars get louder and louder, the synergy between Viking imagery and the pagan-obsessed metal freaks it spawned has never been clearer.
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