Perhaps the most complicated task at hand when mounting a stranded in the wilderness epic of whatever century, is not so much the struggle to survive by those unfortunate back to nature protagonists. But rather relaying a sense of compassion and empathy to the audience without their being subjected to a grueling ordeal as well.
The loosely historically grounded, nearly wordless cautionary docudrama Severed Ways: The Norse Discovery Of America, based on the failed accidental venture of the Vikings as they drifted to the coast of the American continent a little over 1,000 years ago, may be a mere 110 minutes long in comparison. But it plods through this ill-fated trek for what seems like an eternity. And by the way, the more politically correct designation for this type of hostile encounter on foreign turf is characterized today after centuries of this sort of meet and greet colonialist plunder, not so much as discovery, but invasion and occupation.
Written and directed by Tony Stone with an overload of opera and heavy metal combined with minimalist subtitled retro-dialogue in Old Norse and Native American Abenaki, Severed Ways is a kind of cross between National Geographic, Tom Hanks in Cast Away, and The Blair Witch Project. Fiore Tedesco and Tony Stone are two brutish young Viking warriors separated from their departed fleet, who find themselves forced to survive in the punishing North American wilderness.
We observe the rather ironically primitive minded, growling pair cutting down trees for shelter and choking chickens in the wild for dinner (harmed trees and chickens, we feel your pain more than theirs!). And [Audience Alert!] followed by too much information closeups in real time of post-consumption human defecation in the woods, with any remaining excess daintily wiped away with handy forest leaves. Well, a man’s gotta doo…You get the picture.
After much wandering about in circles, fortunately through the warmer seasons, and daydreaming about having murdered those newfangled Christian interlopers back home, while being spurned by unfaithful lovers (a curt cameo by Viva offspring Gabby Hoffman, dumping the metal masked dude in Old Norse dialect), the pair come upon a couple of likewise stranded Christian monks. Whom they kill and/or threaten, before being stalked in turn by stragglers from a hostile, equally mute Indian tribe on the hunt for the ‘white beasts.’
In an odd turn which is likely pure white man’s fantasy than anything that ever actually happened, one fetching Abenaki lass tempts the famished warrior with the long golden locks, with poisonous berries. Then drags the semi-comatose dumb blonde off to her tepee where she, well, makes him her squaw against his weakened will in a startling act of raw man rape, you can figure out the rest.
A trying ordeal for both the actors and viewers, Severed Ways is also equally puzzling for both, in terms of whom this animalistic outdoor S&M fare is likely to appeal to. There is much to praise though, about the scenic splendor (filmed around L’Anse aux Meadows, an actual historic Viking settlement in Newfoundland) and some of those anachronistic moody black metal tracks, incorporating Burzum, Morbid Angel, Judas Priest, Queens of the Stone Age and Dimmu Borgir.