The Spine of Night, 2021.
Written and Directed by Philip Gelatt and Morgan Galen King.
Featuring the voice talents of Richard E. Grant, Lucy Lawless, Patton Oswalt, Betty Gabriel, Joe Manganiello, Larry Fessenden, Malcolm Mills, Jordan Douglas Smith, Patrick Breen, Abigail Savage, Nina Lisandrello, Tom Lipinski, Rob McClure, and Maggie Lakis.
Ultra-violent, epic fantasy set in a land of magic follows heroes from different eras and cultures battling against a malevolent force.
A jumbled mess of a narrative Philip Gelatt’s and Morgan Galen King’s The Spine of Night may be, there’s no denying its visceral punch as a bloodsoaked recounting of centuries of warring over absolute power. Decapitations, mutilations, exploding bodies, witchcraft, sorcery, and more are all present as a host of deranged madmen fight over a mystical blue flower whose petals imbue the holder with godlike powers.
Practically naked due to primitive clothing and gear, swamp sorcerer Tzod (Lucy Lawless, no stranger to animation or barbaric high fantasy) braves frigid conditions and a blizzard ascending a mountaintop to speak to the flower’s guardian (as voiced by Richard E. Grant). What ensues is exchanging tales back and forth, mostly centered on slaughter and oppressive regimes (Tzod has experienced this firsthand in one of the film’s more brutal sequences). With that in mind, as The Spine of Night continuously flashes forward through centuries of atrocities, there’s not much of an emotional connection, direct links, or sense to be made beyond the repeating themes of hierarchal and royal corruption.
The strongest of the bunch follows Phae-Agura (voiced by Betty Gabriel) standing up to a kingdom that would prefer to hoard academic intelligence for themselves rather than educate the ordinary people. There’s much to pull from this thread relating to the society we currently live in, specifically how people holding power will always try to pin others down, especially people of color. Aside from her noble causes, she is also a capable fighter in her own right and voiced with the most urgency and fearlessness of the bunch. Sadly, that’s about the only time there’s anything narratively involving going on.
Throughout what feels like an eternity of time that we see play out before our eyes in bits and pieces, Jordan Douglas Smith’s Ghal-Sur has enacted a nefarious scheme to obtain the blue flower (taking place during a sequence where Patton Oswalt, of all people, voices a cretinous Lord), growing in strength as history unfolds. He does make for a reasonably menacing villain circulating each story, which is welcome considering most of the heroes are somewhat bland. With a worthy antagonist, at least there is a sense that all of this gruesomely entertaining violence is going somewhere satisfactory.
As a visual experience, The Spine of Night frequently switches up locales and color palettes while making the most of its rotoscope animation. Less and less concerned with the plot, the more the movie goes on, it definitely becomes more accessible to digest as an assault on the senses packed with fantastical gore and several creative kills. It’s just a shame everything else is smashed together with no chance of resonating emotionally in terms of story and characters, as even the admirable themes The Spine of Night is hitting could have significantly benefited from expanding these points in time, world, and those on both sides good and evil. There’s not much of an impression made here in not doing so and focusing on letting the blood flow above all else. The results are also something I would rather play as a videogame than watch unfold as a rushed piece of animation.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com