Screengrabs from some of the more lurid moments in Nicolas Winding Refn’s Valhalla Rising (2009). Having watched Drive (2011) and Refn’s recent Only God Forgives I’ve been backtracking to his earlier films. Valhalla Rising is 90 minutes of apocalyptic doom set among sparring tribes in the northern wilds. There’s little in the way of dialogue or even anything resembling a narrative, the whole thing is a study of mood and character with one-eyed Mads Mikkelesen stomping and slaughtering his way through a series of very violent skirmishes and close encounters. Offhand I can’t think of another film where the central character (and ostensible “star”) doesn’t say a single word. Mikkelesen achieves that here and still manages to be a magnetic presence, more so than in the recent Hannibal TV series which hasn’t impressed me at all.
One of the pleasures of Only God Forgives is its garish visual style. That’s an easy thing to apply to an already garish city like Bangkok but you need some audacity to conjure similar visuals from the natural world as Refn does in Valhalla Rising. There’s less of this than I expected from reviews of the film—I’d have been happy with a lot more—but it’s a promising development. That this is easy to create in post-production yet is still a rare thing in feature films says much about the lack of visual imagination in the current crop of directors. If you’re sympathetic to Refn’s brooding manner then Valhalla Rising is worth a look.