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DVD Review - To Go Viking

A documentary looking at the world of Viking role-players.

Directed by: Matt Poitras


For the uninitiated, the acronym LARP stands for Live Action Role Playing, and the noun larpers pertains to the enthusiasts who LARP: those who dress up in period garb for the enthusiastic purpose of re-enacting significant historical events. To Go Viking focuses on several young (ish) men whose particular LARP is dedicated to imitating, in strict historical detail, the battles and mass skirmishes of the Viking Era.
To Go Viking opens with a boisterous en media res sequence. We fade in on the battlefield, submerged within a heaving brawl between multitudes of bearded men; who are violently charging at each other (and us!) with heavy and dangerous looking weapons. There is mud on the lens as the camera ducks axe chops and dives spear blows…before carefully pulling back to reveal a crowd of modern day onlookers -in t shirts, holding cameras and ice creams- who are casually watching the skirmish. The tonal approach of To Go Viking, which is earnest and meticulous, but with a healthy touch of the absurd, is established therein. And To Go Viking certainly is meticulous: to capture the immediacy of the simulated battles, producer/director Matt Poitras got technical and manufactured a shield which, with a make-do innovation Méliès would be proud of, houses a GoPro in order to film the conflict in close proximity. The narrative is likewise never less than immersive, as we follow the larpers while they fiercely prepare for global tournaments (each re-enactment is monitored by referees, who award points, so there is a contentious element to proceedings). We witness the men training, but also proudly crafting their own weapons and armoury… which are sometimes sourced from unpleasantly authentic materials: this is the only film you will ever hear the words ‘Is this a bull scrotum, or a buffalo scrotum?’ uttered, when one larper attempts to get just the right leather in order to make a ‘coin pouch’. There are funny touches here, but the men are never the butt of the joke, and larping is represented as a convivial blend of amateur dramatics, history, art and tireless male competition. The plot deepens when one role player sustains a particularly unpleasant eye injury, and has to pick himself up for the forthcoming European games. For all the historical geekiness involved, larping turns out to be very serious and physical business, indeed.
Of course, on a deeper level, To Go Viking is really about outsider interests and belonging to a community. The film is a proud addition to the ‘niche hobbyist’ sub-genre, which features similarly focussed gems such as An American Scream, The King of Kong and Bronies; fascinating films which take a non-patronising and informative look at interested eccentrics and their underrepresented pursuits. In this sense, there is something very affirmative about To Go Viking and the community it portrays. At different points in the documentary the larpers celebrate their shared ‘connection’ with people with ‘parallel interests’, and, following the extended battles (which can take place over days), there is a celebratory orgy of hugs and cuddles between the men- aww! Most poignantly, one larper confesses that the similarly minded chaps, whom he meets up with every so often to hit about with a stick, are the ‘closet thing [he’s] got to a real family’.  It really is rather lovely seeing people united in this way, and To Go Viking communicates a true feel of fraternity and belonging.
Admittedly, the continual scenes of a jovial bunch of long haired blokes pretending to smash each other about does eventually wane a bit. And, unlike, say, King of Kong’s monomaniacal Billy Mitchell, To Go Viking lacks an exceptionally charismatic player to provide force to proceedings. But then again, perhaps Viking larpers are more level headed than that. Certainly, it would be hard to argue that a group of men dressed up as Vikings chasing each other around the woods is any less absurd than some fellas putting on a football strip and kicking a ball around a big field, and the former diversion is at least 10 times more creative and interesting than the latter. In fact, at one point, the larpers do play football, albeit ‘the old fashioned way’, as one player produces, wonderfully, a rubber head; which the lads immediately proceed to boot about with typical gusto.
Writer/Director Matt Poitras confesses to having gone native while making To Go Viking, and while it is hard to imagine his film spearing similar interest in his beloved pastime (it is too much like hard work for one thing, and dangerous and expensive for two others), To Go Viking remains an entertaining and enlightening documentary about a curious subculture and a great bunch of lads. Odin bless ‘em!
7/10
To Go Viking can be ordered from Amazon



Benjamin Poole
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