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Monday, July 20, 2009


If you're trying to think of a grandiose name for two dullards trudging around in the wilderness for a couple of hours, then I guess SEVERED WAYS: THE NORSE DISCOVERY OF AMERICA (2007) is about as good as any.

Orn (Tony Stone) is the lead singer for a hair-metal band, and Volnard (Fiore Tedesco) is the bass player. Okay, they aren't, but they certainly resemble that more than the badass Vikings from the year 1007 that they're supposed to be.

After the rest of their party either get wiped out by the Skraelings (Native Americans) or hightail it back to Norse-ylvania, the two stranded scouts ask "Dude, where's my ship?" and decide to try and walk cross-continent until they run into either another expedition or a bunch of polar bears, whichever comes first. After observing these guys in action for awhile, you may start to suspect that it wasn't any accident they were left behind.

Anachronism is sometimes used in an attempt to give the characters a more contemporary appeal. One scene begins with the generously-maned Orn greeting the morning by actually headbanging to Judas Priest outside their makeshift enclosure. Elsewhere, a dialogue exchange around the campfire might've been scripted by the guys from MST3K:

"I caught this f**king fish so don't be trying to hog it all."
"Ah, shut the hell up."
"This fish is really killer."

Lots of wood-chopping and even more trudging are interrupted here and there by a few meager plot points, heralded by chapter titles such as "Stranded", "Camp", "Conquest", "Encounters", "Separation", "Reunion", etc. After stumbling across a couple of Christian monks who have escaped Norse captivity and constructed a humble log chapel in the forest, Orn and Volnard slay the two and burn down their chapel.

Actually, Volnard secretly releases his monk back into the wild, still feeling guilty after once killing a Christian who converted his sister only to witness her suicide leap from a cliff in response. Volnard decides to abandon Orn and travel with the monk (David Perry) instead, intrigued by his new religion.

Devout Odin-worshipper Orn, meanwhile, is followed by one of those unbelievably hot Native American babes that exist only in the movies (Noelle Bailey)--she gazes at him from afar in standard serial-killer POV--until she finally decides to lay him out with some knockout berries, transport him to her dwelling, stake him out, and rape him.  Well, you know those hair-metal groupies.

In an interesting dream sequence, Gaby Hoffman of "Uncle Buck" fame appears as Orn's wife and tells him what a total failure he is, with which most viewers by this time will heartily concur. After a few more random occurrences, including an eventual reunion with Volnar, the rambling storyline finally drops dead of exhaustion.

In tone, SEVERED WAYS seems to be going for a cross between James Fenimore Cooper, "Jeremiah Johnson", and "Quest for Fire." Although at times, it also looks like the result of a collaboration between The Discovery Channel and shock filmmaker John Waters, as demonstrated by a couple of scenes that shoot right to the top of my list of "Things I Really Didn't Need or Want to See."

The runner-up is the sequence in which Orn catches a chicken and then proceeds to behead, pluck, and gut it. I know this happens to chickens all the time, but for some hapless fowl to sacrifice its life in the making of this movie seems above and beyond the call of duty.

But that's nothing compared to what is without a doubt the most memorable scene in the film, in which we get to watch Tony Stone take a dump. Yes, movie fans, you heard right. He takes down his pants, allows his bare butt to precipitously hover just long enough to make us think "Oh, no you're not", and then, sure enough, he does--copiously, in fact--and we're treated to a graphic image that will linger in our minds for the rest of the film, if not our lives. This isn't acting, it's just some doofus heaving a Havana.

Even without such dubious cinematic milestones, Stone's hyperactive directing style is all over the place, and too much of it consists of getting a really tight shot of someone or something and then shaking the hell out of the camera (the film often resembles "The Blair Viking Project"). Stone also has an affinity for lens flares that might have you grabbing for your shades.

Admittedly, there's an awful lot of visual beauty in this film, but considering the consistently gorgeous wilderness locations (in Vermont and Newfoundland) this would seem unavoidable. At times, the camera lingers on certain images for so long that they're obviously meant to have a hypnotic effect on the viewer. Unfortunately, it's the kind in which you hear a guy's voice saying, "You are getting sleepy..." That's where the soundtrack comes in handy, because we never know when the next blast of heavy metal or strident prog-synth is going to jar us out of our stupors.

The DVD's 2.35:1 widescreen image is good, although the film sometimes has that noticeable digital video look. Sound is Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0, with the occasional dubbed Old Norse dialogue subtitled in English and Spanish. Bonus features include a couple of deleted snippets, some nice footage shot at an actual Viking settlement in Newfoundland, four brief "video fireplace"-type ambient scenes representing the four elements, and, for some reason, an extended slow-motion look at the burning of that log chapel.

Rounding out the bonus features are two of the film's trailers, which are very well-done and promise an epic entertainment which SEVERED WAYS: THE NORSE DISCOVERY OF AMERICA is unable to deliver. It's an intriguing premise which might have made for an interesting film if actor-writer-producer-director Tony Stone hadn't allowed it to become such a self-indulgent ego trip. Not only that, but he deserves a swift kick for tricking us into watching him pitch a loaf on camera. (Gee, how come Hitchcock or Kubrick never thought of that?) This is the kind of film that's often lauded as an alternative to the usual Hollywood "cookie-cutter" fare, but in this case, I'll have a cookie, thanks.

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