In film school, they teach students that every scene in a film has to serve a purpose. A scene has to push the story further by presenting new conflicts, revealing new information, or reversing a situation. This is the filmmaking-by-numbers formula that most mainstream films tend to fallow. Valhalla Rising, however, is the antidote to such a formulaic approach.

Valhalla Rising can be described as meditative, but in this case meditative would be a euphemism for slow and painstakingly boring. It’s a European art-house film made by a scholar of the dogma school of filmmaking; so the contemplative and challenging nature should come as no surprise. However, halfway through watching, your mind might trail off and question if the film has anything to say at all; and if so, is it enough to sustain 90 minutes?

The lack of events in Valhalla Rising is not just an exercise in ambiguous storytelling; the film hardly has a story. It’s set in 1000 AD somewhere in Europe during a time where Christian Vikings were mobilising to Jerusalem. A mute Norse worrier (Mikkelsen) is enslaved by a group of elders, who put him in fights against other criminals for their amusement. The worrier has no name, so they call him One-eye due to his disfigured right eye. One-eye never speaks a word; but his face projects so much fury that you start to believe that he really might have descended from hell.

One-eye breaks free from the chains and slays all his captors except for one young boy, who follows him around from that point on. He stumbles upon a group of Christian Vikings and joins their ranks just as they are about to board a ship to the holy land. The trip seems to go off course, and after weeks in the midst of the misty sea, they end up in a strange place. They seem to have accidently discovered the new world, but they think that One-eye has dragged them back to the hell that he came from.

As it is always the case with films of this calibre, the cinematography is truly breathtaking. Shot in the Scottish highlands, the vivid green landscapes covered by hazy clouds make for a tranquil backdrop contrasting with the film’s gruesome and gritty events. Valhalla Rising toys with some existential themes, but the painful subtlety makes for a very challenging experience; one that mimics the unfortunate fate of the Crusaders depicted.