FILM REVIEW: The Spine of Night (2021)

The Spine of Night - Now Streaming Review


Directors: Philip Gelatt, Morgan Galen King

Starring: Lucy Lawless, Richard E. Grant, Joe Manganiello, Patton Oswalt, Betty Gabriel, Jordan Douglas Smith


Written by: Philip Gelatt, Morgan Galen King

Produced by: Will Battersby, Jean Rattle, Philip Gelatt

Animated by: Daniel Alekow, Martin Fargasso, Jordan Grimmer, Max Schiller, Alyn Spiller

Visual Effects by: Chris McGuiness

Original Score by: Peter Scartabello


Synopsis:

An epic fantasy set in a land of magic follows heroes from different eras and cultures battling against a malevolent force.



Thoughts:

I hadn’t seen a trailer for ‘The Spine of Night’ and other than the fact I knew it was an animated fantasy film I went into the viewing essentially completely blind. And man did I get a shock. A good shock incidentally, because ‘The Spine of Night’ is a fantastic, ultra violent, nostalgia hit that left me wanting to seek out some old school 70s and 80s sword and sorcery classics.



Working as both an homage to classic 80s cartoons like ‘Dungeons & Dragons’ and ‘He-Man and the Masters of the Universe’ and a spiritual tribute to the works of the great Ralph Bakshi (especially ‘Fire and Ice’) ‘The Spine of Night’ is one large epic story arc split up into smaller anthology-type narratives featuring some amazing characters like Tzod, a naked swamp lady with an affinity with witchcraft who seeks out the ancient being known as The Guardian in a bid to communicate her shortgivings and gain knowledge of an azure coloured flower that holds magical capabilities. Tzod is fully nude and wears a skull on her head. Her village has been raided and burned to the ground. It’s a shockingly violent sequence where some of her family and friends literally get beheaded and disembowelled. It’s genuinely brutal. Tzod is brought to the prissy Lord Pyrantin who gets his face melted off for being such an asshole. We’re also introduced to the scholar Ghal-Sur, who is companionable at first but later becomes seduced by the darkness of the blue flower and the lure of the power it possesses.


Some people might be put off by the “simpler” animation, most of which isn’t anywhere close to being as intricate and detailed as what we usually see by today’s standards. But the vintage aesthetic makes it more alluring and it’s definitely aimed at a certain demo of which I most certainly fall into. The violence could be seen as gratuitous but it’s really no different than films like Mel Gibson’s ‘Braveheart’ or Spielberg’s ‘Saving Private Ryan’. Visually the film often blew my mind with its trippy neon and blood soaked imagery.. Lots of the action scenes are filled with impressively gory kills. And there’s even some weird and magical body horror on show too in a profoundly memorable sequence featuring Ghal-Sur and the Inquisitor. A power struggle between the two ultimately boils over into a physical confrontation revolving, once again, around the blue flower. In order to use the magic of the blue flower, the blood of the fallen is consumed by the scholar whose torso literally transforms into a huge eye. The power is then transferred to the Grand Inquisitor of the Pantheon who uses his newly bestowed necromancy to annihilate anyone in his way who might still believe in scholarly and in protecting the history of knowledge. But the Inquisitor is just a vessel for the scholar Ghal-Sur who murders the rest of the learned flock and raises an army of disciples in a quest for ultimate dominance. The Inquisitor’s death reminded me of Denethor, Steward of Gondor, falling to his end from the high walls of Minas Tirith in Peter Jackson’s masterpiece ‘The Return of the King’.



Another impressive sequence is when The Guardian explains the lore behind the blue flower or bloom as it’s now known and about how the greed of men who stole the bloom from the ancient giants initiated the birth of corruption in the world. It’s a story that’s been told in some shape or form a hundred times before and made me automatically think back to the creation of the Nazgul in ‘The Lord of the Rings’. This particular sequence lends itself from Bakshi and Frank Farzetta’s rotoscope animation style by showing the characters as silhouettes with their only facial recognition being their vivid white eyes and teeth. It’s gorgeous.



The accompanying score is epic at times and the voice cast are all superb. Lucy Lawless plays the swamp witch Tzod and Richard E. Grant voices The Guardian. Both are fantastic and bring a real gravitas to their characters. Sombre, wise and believable. Shout out to Joe Manganiello as beefy warrior Mongrel and the unmistakable Patton Oswalt as the twatty young prince Pyrantin.


The pacing of the film is a bit off and the structure of the story a tad convoluted. It probably could’ve done with having a comedic segment (or even just some light hearted fun) simply just for respite as the entire film is very bleak and will likely be too heavy for some. However the cast and visuals, especially the more mature and magical imagery, really hits home and makes this unique feature animation essential viewing.


Verdict: ⭐⭐⭐⭐


- Gavin Logan


‘The Spine of Night’ is available to stream on Shudder from Thursday 24th March

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