I was a fan of Danish writer/director Refn's previous English language effort Bronson, the highly theatrical portrait of the crazed British jailbird known as "Charles Bronson". So I was looking forward to Valhalla Rising, even though – my Norwegian roots notwithstanding – I have never held much interest in Viking movies. Different on almost every level from Bronson, Valhalla Rising is a brooding Dark Ages saga of a mute slave warrior (ubiquitous Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen; you remember him as the villain from Casino Royale) who is adopted into a small crew of Scottish Christians about to set sail for Jerusalem to fight in the Crusades. A mist envelopes their boat for days, possibly weeks, and they arrive on alien shores.
Punctuated by sudden bursts of extreme gory violence and awash in a sludgy (but effective) soundtrack, nearly psychedelic imagery, and a strong anti-Christian message, Valhalla Rising is like Werner Herzog's Aguirre, the Wrath of God repurposed for the death metal crowd. I have no problem with that per se, but the film's often achingly slow story does not amount to much in the end. It will have its fans, but I was disappointed.