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Saturday, July 25

See You In Valhalla: A Movie Review

I stumbled across this little independent film in my journeys this past week and gave it a watch.  Here are some thoughts and details.

There were no big-screen names in this one, but plenty of small-screen actors from popular television shows.  That's usually the way with indie movies.  The up and coming Bridget Davis & the Viking Kings had a few featured songs of note. 

In a nutshell, the film features a dysfunctional family who had scattered after the death of their mother.  They all return home after their brother's bizarre death is all over the news.  And along the way, Vikings.

The film is rated R and I agree with that designation.  There are some mature themes, like meth addiction, suicide, teen pregnancy, abortion, and condemning of gays.  It is a short film, running a smidgen less than 80 total minutes.  

The following synopsis and review contains SPOILERS.  So, if you'd like to watch this film before continuing, I understand.  You can stream this on Amazon right now for about $5.  The below video is a theatrical trailer for "See You in Valhalla".  Anything beyond will reveal character information and storyline details.

The Family: 

This film features a "quirky" family the way many function in the real world.  The Burwoods are intolerant of each other and non-supportive.  Almost twenty years ago, their mother died and their father crumpled.  The children were left to raise themselves and it didn't go well for most of them.    They've since gone their separate ways and have plenty of emotional baggage. 

Don, the eldest, had enjoyed jock/varsity popularity before getting his girlfriend pregnant at 17.  He left home to get married and raise his child, claiming to have taken the high-road.  In the present, he has become a financial analyst with a conservative political stance, a distant wife, and a "perfect" daughter who's ready for college at 15, but spouts a bunch of anti-gay rhetoric and judges her aunt and uncles sternly. 

Barry, the second child, is homosexual and a doctor of psychiatry.  He seems the most comfortable and successful, but gets zero respect from his siblings.  He brings Makewi, his earthy, ex-addict body-builder boyfriend who wears sarongs, spouts Hawaiian mythos, and eats mushrooms. 

Johana, their sister and the central figure of the story, dropped out of school when she found herself pregnant at 16.  She left home to pursue a life of art and allowed rumors of her abortion and cowardice to spread.  Currently, she is in a new relationship with a cheerful man who doesn't comprehend how a family can hurt each other so much.   

Max, the youngest, had lost himself to meth addiction.  He got clean and moved to a Viking commune, embracing a life of Norse reconstructionism, and changing his name to Magnus.  There, he met the love of his life, another recovering meth addict, and brought her home with him.  When she falls back into addiction and dies from an overdose, Magnus tries to seek vengeance against the kingpin who sold her the drugs.  Unfortunately, Magnus is killed and declared a lunatic by the media.

Woody, the patriarch of the family, fell apart when his wife died.  He became distant with his children and hardly noticed their comings and goings.  He "woke up" when Magnus asked to move home after spending time at the Viking commune.  Life returned to Woody as he tried to be there for his son and his girlfriend, appreciating their new Norse lifestyle.  After the tragic loss of Magnus, the other children come home to find their father in ill health.  He has recently hired a new-age nursemaid who fills the home with meditation and sage smoke.

The Story:

All of the Burwood's issues and emotional pain converge into an all-out family war that almost causes them to combust in the days before Magnus's funeral can even be planned.  As each member of the family breaks, we learn things.  

Don is miserable.  His wife is cheating on him and they are getting divorced.  He reveals that he mocks his brother Barry's sexual identity because he thinks his brother turned out to be the best of them and he can't find anything else to throw at him.  Don's judgmental daughter awakens to the fact that she's had no childhood due to her father's regrets.  She drinks mojitos with Woody's nurse and likes it.

Barry tries to deal with Makewi as he goes off the rails, breaking into a construction site to steal lumber after having a vision of needing to "build an ark".

Johana reconnects with her highschool lover only to find that he is a loser who actively cheats on women.  She has a heart-to-heart with her current boyfriend just as he's about to walk away.  She finally opens up to him about her mother's death, her art, and the real reason she left home (not to abort her baby, but to have it and give it up in a closed adoption).

Woody reveals that he hid Magnus's private journal from the police and several of them read through it.  It is full of longing for the "family pack" to become strong again.  They learn about his love and his recovery from addiction and read about his vows to reunite the family.  He leaves a farewell message to his siblings, vowing to one day see them all around Odin's table in Valhalla.

During yet another fight, Woody has a heart attack, bringing clarity to the lost family.  During this time, Makewi "reads the signs" and decides to steal Magnus's body from the morgue.  He convinces the family to give their brother a proper Viking funeral.  Although some are hesitant, it becomes a beautiful purifying ceremony for the siblings.

The film ends with a visibly more loving and vibrant family, once torn apart by their mother's death, now reunited by their brother's passing.

The Review:

This film is a little slow, but if you're into indie films you'll understand why.  The comedy almost exclusively comes from the two new-age characters.  The drama is plentiful and feels real.  There are no fabricated, fill-in-the-blank sob stories.  The tales told by this family feel like it could be the family next door.

Unfortunately, by the time this film finds its groove, it becomes rushed.  After an hour and 10 slow-paced minutes (out of a total film time of 1hr 21mins), the story starts to gallop.  From the moment the children come to an understanding with their father the film becomes rushed, cramming golden moments like the stealing of Magnus's body and the Norse-style funeral into about 6 minutes.

Personally, I think I watched this movie for the scenes with Makewi as his one-liners and zen moments lightened this heavy drama for me.  It felt to me that his character carried the film not only with comedy, but also having a major role in every plot turn.   

The Viking-ness many were hoping for comes only in a few highlights and references.  Most of those moments are in short flashbacks to Magnus's recovery.  The film certainly isn't about a Norse family or even a new age family, however modern Pagan families will recognize a few things like an altar here or there, a glimpse of a sage bundle, etc.  I mention this purely because ITHOMS is a Pagan blog.  The film never pretends to be focused in such a manner.  

I adored the music in this movie.  Currently, it is not available on iTunes nor Amazon.  Notable songs include "Trouble Comes in Threes" and "Little Sister", both come from Bridget Davis & The Viking Kings (currently their album is a KickStarter project).  The entire soundtrack is enticing.

In the end, I doubt this will ever be a favorite in our home, but it was worth a watch.  I hope you'll give it a try some evening when you crave a moment of Paganism or reenactment in your movies.

"See You in Valhalla" is available for $14 on Amazon (even less if you pick up a used copy). 

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