Call director Nicolas Winding Refn what you will (and I can think of a few things), but the man is never short on ambition. He has always worked to incorporate avant-garde elements into familiar genres like the prison film, the heist film and the gangster film. Each worked in varying degrees, often depending on the extent to which Refn decided to push the pre-established boundaries.
His 2010 film “Valhalla Rising,” however, might be the most purely effective of all his recent work. That’s not say it makes for the most entertaining or provocative watches. But this five-chapter tale of Norse mythology does mark his most sparse, stylistic work.
Story frequently takes a backseat to form, tone and mood, all of which Refn controls quite nimbly. The director has often called himself a pornographer of violence, and he certainly delivers the action. Yet “Valhalla Rising” does show him willing to engage in courtship, flirtation and foreplay before getting onto the hard stuff.
Of course, as is often the case with stylized exercises, the show gets old rather quickly. With little beyond the subdued fury of Mads Mikkelsen’s one-eye to carry the brutal, hallucinatory tale, “Valhalla Rising” sags under the weight of its own grand zeal to arouse. Still, it makes one wonder what Refn could produce if he went down a path even more uncommercial than this. B- /