Back in the day, Young Dara loved anything and everything fantasy. That meant playing D&D with my friends, reading Fafhrd & The Gray Mouser, and watching any straight-to-video fantasy movie my friend and I could rent from Blockbuster. Of course, in those days, fantasy movies were pretty much uniformly derivative, cliched crap with terrible acting and worse special effects.
These days, that hasn’t changed much, unless you have Lord of the Rings budget, which pretty much no other fantasy movie does, especially not an indie one. Indie horror movies are a dime a dozen, because they’re cheap to make. All you need are some torn thrift store clothes, a few gallons of corn syrup, and red food coloring. Fantasy movies, on the other hand, require costumes and weapons and armor and horses and castles and fight choreography and special effects. So while I no longer have the interest or patience to watch any ol’ sword & sorcery flick, every once I do yearn for a visit to the fantasy realms I loved so much as a kid.
Which brings us to this impulse watch on Netflix.
For starters, I’m not really sure what the official title of this 2013 movie is. On Netflix (where I watched it) it’s called Curse of the Dragon Slayer. On IMDB, it’s cataloged as SAGA: Curse of the Shadow. And on Kickstarter, where the filmmakers were looking to raise $20K (they ended up with over $33K) to “finish up an epic visual effects sequence” after the movie had already been finished, it was called The Shadow Cabal.
Oddly enough, my biggest gripe is actually with the movie’s title, given a distinct lack of dragons, or any plot point having to do with dragons or dragon slaying. I’m not quite sure what the filmmakers were thinking. But identity crisis aside, this turned out to be a halfway decent fantasy action flick. Not great, but much better than you’d expect from a low-budget, independently produced fantasy film. Certainly much better than any dreck that would come out of the Asylum studios.
The plot itself isn’t anything you haven’t heard a hundred times before, about a secret group called the Shadow Cabal trying to bring Goth Azul, the god of death, back to the mortal realm. Standing in their way is a rag tag team of 3 adventurers, each with their own agenda, working together uneasily. You have Nemyt, an elf bounty hunter who’s been cursed by the Shadow. Keltus the Wanderer, a paladin in service of “The Prophetess,” and Kullimon the Black, and orc who has lost control of his war party to another orc under the influence of the Shadow.
Also, for no reason at all, there are a couple of scenes with a steampunk dwarf who uses muskets and blunderbusses. But we won’t concern ourselves with that.
Honestly, where the movie exceeds, and overcomes, it’s obviously limited budget, is in its location scouting, cinematography, and costuming. The filmmakers found some truly beautiful outdoor settings to put their characters in. Magnificent vistas, gorgeous deserts, claustrophobic forests, etc. There are quite a few beautifully framed shots, utilizing nature to its fullest effect. And I found the costumes to be quite well done, as well. There’s a flourish to several of the pieces that transcends your typical medieval-ish looking clothing and armor. You can tell they put a lot of thought into it. If they had spent as much effort on the script itself, this could have been a really solid movie.
The acting was fair to good. Paul D. Hunt, the actor portraying the orc Kullimon, had the standout performance. He managed to infuse humor and introspection into a character that could have easily just been another dumb brute. Richard McWilliams (Keltus) brought a certain zen-like calmness that worked well for his character, and Danielle Chuchran (Nemyt) did a servicable job as the fiesty, fiery bounty hunter, although the character’s propensity for spitting in anger every 5 minutes was somewhat annoying.
By the way, the $33K they raised via Kickstarter for the final battle sequence produced a CG monster only mildly better than a video game cut scene, but I’m pretty sure you’d need a much bigger budget for truly epic VFX.
Watching the movie, I got the feeling that the creators were really fans of the fantasy genre and were trying to do a good job at making a movie fellow fans could enjoy. I didn’t see the kind of cynical, half-assed effort that goes into other low budget flicks trying to cash in on the popularity of Game of Thrones or LoTR, so kudos to them. It’s not a great movie, but it is entertaining, with some great eye candy in the form of costumes and settings, and if you’re a fantasy buff you’ll probably enjoy it.
Here’s the trailer: