Posted in: Disc Reviews by William O'Donnell on August 13th, 2009
This is the story of two Vikings who are mistakingly left behind in Newfoundland in the year 1007. As these two find ways to survive, they encounter Irish monks and Aboriginal people, and these same encounters ultimately lead to rifts in their bond with each other. The beautiful landscapes become a backdrop for a sometimes violent look at the people who discovered North America centuries before Columbus or any other discoverer. Oh, and we also get bad translations of Old Norse, a lot of metal music and a scene of actual defecation.
The landscapes are undeniably gorgeous as they are wonderfully captured on film. The lush colours, the enchanting sounds, and the overall splendor of untouched nature is paid tribute to so that the audience may see what the original Viking travelers would have witnessed at their arrival. This scenery is the best part of the film. The rest is harder to process.
What could have been a brilliant, minimalist tale not unlike Quest for Fire (only higher up the evolutionary chain) turns into a sometimes self-serving tribute to much that is wrong with heavy metal fans who attempt to connect with the Norse way of life and beliefs. While the nature is wonderful and the scenes of the Vikings being practical, such as building their shelters, are quite good, they are accompanied by moments that would be better left to a music video than a historical film. Things turn towards the stereotypical way people think of Vikings (violent barbarian types) with much anti-Christian bravado as these two spontaneously get the opportunity to slaughter some Monks to the sounds of Black Metal. Things get even sillier with the soundtrack when we are offered an inexplicable shot of one Viking standing shirtless on a mound, holding a sword and axe while head-banging, for absolutely no reason, to music he SHOULD NOT be able to hear.
Speaking of the soundtrack, it features a lot of songs by Burzum, who may be a fine example of where Norwegian Black metal came from, but he is also a particular favourite of White Supremacists and his presence is an example of what I mentioned as being “wrong” with those that wish to act more Norse in their metal fandom. The anti-Christian messages in the music and in the film is something that nobody can object to as tacked on for it is historically tied to the Norse people since the earliest attempts to convert them right up to the infamous church burnings in Scandinavia of more recent times, but Nazi or white supremacist ties are feeble and do not speak to their traditions AT ALL (I’m not just being subjective here or having a knee-jerk reaction being a proud heathen, metal-head, Icelander myself, any proper research will tell you the same…but I digress). Of course, this argument is largely isolated to that of Burzum connection to the film and not of the film itself as it does not make any specific statement against any race. In fact, we get an interesting, if not very confusing, scene of interracial sex towards the end, although it does play into a twisted male fantasy of being drugged and lured away by a beautiful woman, another note towards the filmmakers “self-indulgence.”
On the visual end of things, the shots can sometimes be a bit too up close and far too shaky, creating a very nauseating effect. The opening scene of the two lost Vikings finding their fallen brothers dead on a shore looks as if they recorded it themselves with all the clumsiness of The Blair Witch Project. The camera becomes much too intimate at times as a historical film like this needs to have as little acknowledgement of the film making process as possible so that the audience can be immersed in the story. Of course, moments like the head-banging explode that feeling anyways.
At every turn, it is hard to know whether writer/director/editor/producer/star/clear non-Christian Tony Stone wished to make something gritty and realistic, or simply a love-letter to chest-thumping heavy metal and make a prolonged music video. The film’s problems, which include some laughable translations of supposed ‘old Norse’ (“this fish is killer,” “if we stay here we’re toast,” really?) as well as the shaky camera, lessen as time goes by. There is less dialogue, less of an abrupt soundtrack, more chances for thoughtful shots about their rough travels, and better opportunities for the audience to contemplate what they are witnessing instead of seeing it as simply a home movie by some metal-heads playing dress-up. Though it chiefly comes later-on, Severed Ways is at times quite a remarkable film.
Widescreen 2.35:1. Though it was shot entirely on MiniDV tapes, the quality is rather good. Granted, this mostly has to do with the fact that everything is in natural light but there the digital haziness is only noticeable in dusk or dawn scenes. A rather clean looking picture for something obviously so near amateur (in the sense of a first time, learning filmmaker).
Both Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0 are available. The crackling of fire and wood sounds are clear enough to make you feel as if you are in the woods with these Vikings. The soundtrack is boosted plenty but not unbalanced with the scenes of only natural sounds. The dialogue often sounds like mumbles (possibly to hide the true translations) but it is no matter as nothing is in a modern language anyhow.
The dialogue is all in “old Norse” and “Aboriginal” with English subtitles and the option for Spanish subtitles.
Severed Scenes: Two cuts scenes. One a wordless walk through some falls, the other is simply a few seconds of a Red Eft walking (albeit, a terribly interesting looking creature).
Scenic Ambience: Quite the unique special feature. There are four scenes to choose from (Water, Fire, Earth & Wind) and each is a meditative presentation of nature. It’s like the faux fire they show on television around the winter Holidays. It is by far one of my favourite features I have encountered in a long time.
Slow Burn: A behind the scenes look at the church burning scene, with an odd twist. The footage is slowed down, making all of the hollering by the filmmaker and his drinking buddies/cinematographers as they throw gasoline onto a building a trudge around the enormous flames. Strange, but it keeps you watching the screen.
Back Home: L’Anse Aux Meadows, Newfoundland: Yet another compilation of beautiful landscapes. In this case, included is shots of a recreated Viking home site of the first visitors to Canada/North America.
Trailers: Two good looking trailers for the film.
Also included are trailers for other Magnolia Home Entertainment films.
There is an ever shifting see-saw that holds indy historical film on one side and heavy metal blustering video on the other and in the end, your opinion of this film will depend on which side of the you think is heavier. Scenes such as the already mentioned and shockingly unstaged defecation scene by our creator Mr. Stone, can seem hilariously off-putting or be seen as an extreme way of grounding the film in the realities of their lifestyle. There are too many scenes that vary so wildly from each other to make one side the clear choice. It is a matter of what you’d choose to take away from it, and either way you’d be right.