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Thursday, March 18, 2021

[SXSW Review] ‘The Spine of Night’ Is a High Concept, Ultra-Violent Fantasy Epic

The early ‘80s marked a handful of notable ultra-violent, hand-rotoscoped animation features aimed toward adults. Gerald Potterton’s Heavy Metal, based on the magazine, and Ralph Bakshi’s Fire and Ice– a collaboration with artist Frank Frazetta- are chief among the notable standouts of the era. The Spine of Night is a love letter to the classic animation style and draws clear inspiration from both formative films mentioned above. It’s an ambitious, high-concept fantasy anthology epic that spans time, leaving a trail of bodies and entrails in its wake.

The Spine of Night opens with a nude woman in bone adornments scaling a snowy mountain. She’s seeking a mystical, powerful bloom guarded at the top. Before she can take it, its armored guardian (Richard E. Grant) awakes and stands in her way. The guardian seeks to slay anyone that would remove the bloom from its sacred place; man isn’t prepared for its power. That power is knowledge. But the woman, Tzod (Lucy Lawless), explains how the bloom already escaped its sanctuary and found its way into society. With a purpose yet to be revealed, she regales the guardian with tales of the bloom’s effect on civilization throughout many eras, how its ancient magics inflict deep suffering when it falls into the wrong hands.

Written and directed by Philip Gelatt and Morgan Galen KingThe Spine of Night evokes the breathless wonder and art style of Fire and Ice, unfurling a meditative and existential tale. This anthology is steeped in a world of magic, heroes, and villains across time told with a distinct and measured cadence. Assembling a talented and impressive voice cast that includes Patton OswaltBetty GabrielJoe ManganielloLarry Fessenden, and Rob McClure, it’s not characters- though there are many- that connect this sprawling story but a concept. One singular totem of power connects different moments of time, some overlapping, to paint a stark picture of how knowledge shapes and corrupts societies. From primitive swamplands to steampunk futures and everything in between, this anthology is more about the sum than its parts.

Gelatt and King chronicle the rise and fall and rise and fall of man. The addictive quest for power through knowledge brings remarkable advancements, but it can quickly destroy it all in one fell swoop in the wrong hands. The filmmakers present various villains and heroes from difficult cultures and periods to illustrate the point. That revolving door makes it impossible to latch onto any particular character, outside of the introductory pair and a recurring tyrant. Then again, this isn’t a character-driven piece but a heady, philosophical one. The filmmakers don’t just rely on nostalgic-driven artistry to carry their effort; they infuse an inspiring level of depth to their epic.

That alone would signal that this animated feature is intended for a mature audience, but Gelatt and King drive that home with endless carnage. Tribes get slaughtered, warlords disembowel their enemies, and blood flows freely in this unforgiving world. When life is so fleeting and vicious, it effectively adds stakes.

This type of existential high fantasy anthology won’t be for everyone. While the voice cast gives life to their characters and each stands out, few are given prominence or precedence in an expansive film driven solely by an inanimate object of boundless power. More than that, it’s an object that serves as a conduit for metaphor and existential purpose. Even if its winding narrative structure and themes won’t be for all tastes, it’s impossible not to be awed by the sheer artistry on display. The painstaking process of hand-rotoscoped animation gives a striking, epic feel to an already larger-than-life concept. The Spine of Night packs so much into its roughly 90-minute runtime that it doesn’t always give its emotional peaks room to breathe, but it never fails to arouse a feeling of wonder. This movie is a breathtaking rarity.



source https://bloody-disgusting.com/reviews/3654825/sxsw-review-spine-night-sprawling-high-concept-ultra-violent-fantasy-epic-embargoed-3-18-930pm-ct/

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