South by Southwest (SXSW) Film Festival – Creativity courses through every frame of the new animated film THE SPINE OF NIGHT. A love letter to the golden age of adult animation in the 70’s inspired by Ralph Bakshi, the film is written and directed by Philip Gelatt and Morgan Galen King propelling audiences through a timeless fantasy adventure not soon to be forgotten. As our story opens, mostly nude swamp dweller Tzod (Lucy Lawless), is trudging through the snow toward a blue beacon on a peak. The Guardian (Richard E. Grant) sits in a skull-shaped cave as Tzod nearly collapses at his feet in search of the answer to impenetrable mysteries that have imprisoned the land in turmoil for ages. What is the Guardian protecting? A singular blue flower that may be the cause of, and solution to, all of mankind’s problems. The two exchange threats, pleasantries, respect, and mutual desire to rid the land of despair through a series of recollections that fill us, the audience, in on what has led to this moment. One that may decide the fate of all life.
The structure of the film is purposefully ornate as is the narrative, the characters, and even the craftsmanship itself. Not-so-much purple prose as aubergine, we take a circuitous route, learning the epic story through recollection. We see how the opportunistic villain took advantage of Tzod in order to attain infinite knowledge and power. We meet the hilariously petulant Lord Pyrantin (Patton Oswalt) who imprisons and abuses Tzod at her weakest moment. We meet Mongrel (Joe Manganiello) one of Pyrantin’s henchmen who does as he’s told despite sensing far more altruistic means. We even learn of the darker moments when Phae-Agura (Betty Gabriel) fights to save the archives of all civilization against a horde of treacherous, power-hungry, sorcerers. We even get our gloriously over-the-top climax that is resplendent in pageantry and bloodshed. Timelines, technologies, and worlds blend to create a stoner’s paradise of a world that demands submission for the sake of pure abandon.
THE SPINE OF NIGHT is not for everyone. This is a story unfettered by practical timelines. It is a hyperviolent yarn of sword and sorcery, magic and darkness. In short, it’s f*cking rad. Fantasy veteran Lawless and fantasy aficionado Manganiello seem to relish the opportunity to dwell in their home genre the most with Oswalt hamming it up in several deliciously melodramatic scenes. The moments between he and Lawless are phenomenal.
NIGHT is a project borne of passion and a full understanding of the highs and lows of its affection. There is a remarkable audacity to the idea of creating a convoluted fantasy, rotoscoped, fully realized, and produced that commands a certain respect. Structurally the film holds up, so thank goodness there, but for fans of this particular sub-sub-genre genre, you have a very rare treat in store. For others, you might want to loosen up and give in.
8 out of 10