The Spine of Night

Review by Rich Cline | 4/5

The Spine of Night
dir-scr Philip Gelatt, Morgan Galen King
prd Will Battersby, Philip Gelatt, Jean Rattle
with Richard E Grant, Lucy Lawless, Joe Manganiello, Patton Oswalt, Betty Gabriel, Jordan Douglas Smith, Malcolm Mills, Tom Lipinski, Nina Lisandrello, Abby Savage, Patrick Breen, Larry Fessenden
release US 29.Oct.21,
UK 25.Mar.22
21/US 1h33

grant lawless manganiello

Is it streaming?

tzod and mongrel
With an unusually striking visual sensibility, this adult-aimed animated fantasy skilfully combines differing styles of imagery, including photoreal landscapes and hand-drawn characters that have exceptional physicality due to performance capture. With an epic-scale plot (in a relatively brief running-time) and lots of florid touches, filmmakers Philip Gelatt and Morgan Galen King pack the film with eye-catching action that's fetishistic and outrageously violent. It's also bursting with resonant themes.
From her village in a swamp, high priestess Tzod (Lawless) is kidnapped by brutal marauder Mongrel (Manganiello) and taken to "civilisation" overseen by the petulant Lord Pyrantin (Oswalt), who wants her power. But scholar Ghal-Sur (Smith) steals Tzod's magic instead. He is in turn imprisoned by ambitious inquisitor Doa (Breen), whose peace-loving acolyte Phae-Agura (Gabriel) is horrified when she learns of Doa's intentions. And now after a long trek, Tzod arrives on an icy mountain to confront the Guardian (Grant) about the past, hoping that the last blue flower can restore balance to the land.
Awash with mythology, the narrative spirals in unexpected directions, as greedy figures deploy astonishing cruelty and destruction, revealing how terrified anyone they see as a threat. Even friends turn violent in their quest for power, leading to wildly gruesome clashes involving swords, axes, arrows, fire and rivers of blood. There's a lovely contrast between those who have an ounce of humility and those who don't, although there are so many villains along the way that the story sometimes feels a bit exhausting.

Characters burst with personality, engaging the interest thanks to expressive voice work and animation that sharply captures weight and personality, plus of course lots of expansive spectacle. Grant gets the best dialog, recounting the twisted legend of humankind. Even though she's naked, Tzod never seems vulnerable, exuding strength with every word. And Phae-Agura's moral strength is remarkable as well. With their superb physicality, each character has a striking complexity, even when they become entangled with supernatural powers.

It's no accident that two women are the only characters who are genuinely seeking peace. The men in this story are all consumed by their desire for power and control, which offers god-like status but of course never ends well. Alternatively, the interaction also explores the value and danger of ignorance. Like most fantasy epics, this is a layered fable about human nature as it spans through history. The only hope for the future is to end bloodlust and warmongering, and to carefully guard the truth.

cert 15 themes, language, violence, nudity 18.Feb.22

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© 2022 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall