When last we encountered director Nicolas Winding Refn, he was busy pulverizing us with Bronson, the story of Britain's greasiest, brawlingest prison inmate. His latest epic, the Norse-centric Valhalla Rising, also gets elegiac with its violence — you'll find brutal maulings aplenty — but this gloomy slog through the European wilderness is a very different film indeed.
Here, we're transported back to AD 1000, where a brooding, clairvoyant mute called One Eye (Mads Mikkelsen) escapes his pagan captors, only to fall in with a band of Christians hoping to strike it rich in the Holy Land. At first, the crusaders claim One Eye as a good-luck charm, but as they find themselves lost in some godforsaken taiga, madness and fear set in. The sparse plot is inscrutable, and the monosyllabic dialogue reads like something penned by some grim and ancient Dr. Seuss ("It's not a curse; it's just a mist. Nothing more").
If you're looking for a ripping historical lad flick like Gladiator or 300, look elsewhere — this is Aguirre, the Wrath of God, with the despondency jacked to 11.