Arthouse meets über-geek fan film in Severed Ways: The Norse Discovery of America (2007), a micro-budget indie written, directed, edited, produced and starring freshman filmmaker Tony Stone. Based on an incidental anecdote in an Old Norse text about two Viking scouts abandoned in Vinland (present-day northern Newfoundland) in 1007 A.D., when their party was attacked by Abenaki Indians, Severed Ways imagines what might have befallen the duo.
Abandoned, Orn (Tony Stone) and Volnard (Fiore Tedesco) attempt to trek northward toward home while avoiding hostile Indians. Along the way marooned Irish monks are murdered, one beautiful maiden is pleasured while another leaps to her death, Indian warriors slay and are slain, and heavy-metal headbanging is invented. However, Severed Ways is no more a conventional Viking epic than Gus Van Sant's Gerry is a conventional man-against-nature adventure. What sex and violence there is in Severed Ways is unvarnished, infrequent and quickly past.
Firmly grounded in the show-don't-tell school of filmmaking, Severed Ways has hardly any dialogue. What little there is was dubbed into Old Norse or Abenaki and subtitled in modern English vernacular, yielding such gems as "we're toast if we stay here" and "this fish is really killer." With little dialogue and only brief moments of sex and violence, Stone devotes the majority of Severed Ways to existential crisis and atmospheric naturalism. Yet, Severed Ways isn't all an art film walk through the woods, à la Kelly Reichardt's Old Joy, either because it's permeated throughout with a Viking-cosplay-meets-survivalist-woodlore geekiness that borders on the fetishistic. Long periods of trudging through the woods in Viking garb are de rigueur in this Herzogian narrative, but the lengthy periods of screen time devoted to hand-building a shelter, catching and preparing fish and fowl, and literally (and graphically) shitting in the woods are surprising.
Stone's geek sensibilities also drive the music of Severed Ways which features a black metal soundtrack (Burzum, Dimmu Borgir, Judas Priest, Morbid Angel, Old Man's Child and Queens of the Stone Age) and an ambient score (Brian Eno and Popol Vuh).
Presented in anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1 aspect ratio), the cinematography occasionally rivals the grandeur of a Terrence Malick film, but more often looks like outtakes from Blair Witch, with disorientingly-zoomed details shot handheld by a running camera operator.
Video & Audio:
Shot on HD, matted to 2.35:1, and enhanced for widescreen, Severed Ways, at times, suffers color bleed and video noise, but generally looks fine for an indie flick of this kind.
This DVD release includes 5.1 and 2.0 DD mixes. The 5.1 mix is aggressively dynamic with clear directionality and deep base.
Forced English subtitles are provided for the dubbed Old Norse and Abenaki dialogue. Although optional Spanish subtitles are also provided, they're oversized and run along the top of the screen (because of the forced English subs) significantly impairing playback.
Extras include two deleted scenes (6 min.), four short, individually looped, ambient scenes, a slow behind-the-scenes replay of the film's principal pyrotechnics scene (6 min.), footage of the L'Anse Aux Meadows, Newfoundland archeological site (2 min.), two trailers for this film, and three trailers for other DVD releases from Magnolia Pictures, Magnet Releasing.
Severed Ways: The Norse Discovery of America will disappoint anyone looking for a conventional Viking action flick, but it is not without its charms. Viewers who can appreciate psychological art film sensibilities freely mixed with insular fan film devotion should enjoy this unique indie.