SXSW 2021: The Spine Of Night (2021) Review

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The Spine Of Night is an animated (and animated) tale of ultra-violence and epic fantasy. Set in a land of magic following heroes from a different eras and cultures battling against a malevolent force.

Tzod, a swamp witch climbs a snowy mountain in search of the mystical Bloom. Upon finding the final source, she is confronted by The Guardian, whose sole mission is to keep it safe. In order to gain access to it, she regales him with the tale of her land. One that is ruled over by a tyrannical Warlock and the Bloom is the only chance she has to stop him.

The story by writer-directors Gelatt and Galen King is one that, if live action, would have commanded a budget of millions of dollars. By telling it via the medium of rotoscoping, animation layered over live action reference e.g. A Scanner Darkly, it gives them greater creative freedom to swing for the fences in terms of visual storytelling. There is magic, mayhem, myths and violence on a level that could make Game Of Thrones look like Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

Not only does it look good but it sounds good too with an impressive voice cast. Lucy Lawless, Richard E. Grant and Patton Oswalt all lend their dulcet tones to proceedings. While Oswalt does his best Vizzini from The Princess Bride impression, Lawless and Grant provide gravitas as the two characters whose meeting anchors the story.

It is an epic tale with some spine tingling moments. One of the standouts being a sequence involving men turning on the gods who created them.

However the episodic nature of the story does loosen the film’s grip on the audience. By spanning centuries and showing the evolution of the Kingdom under the rule of the antagonist, Lawless’s Tzod becomes more of a narrator than protagonist. Thus the final confrontation lacks the desired impact when the two finally face off. It is not helped by the brief runtime of 93 minutes. With so much lore and world building required to tell the densely packed tale, one wonders if a mini-series would have been a more effective method of storytelling. One that would have allowed to the world to be fleshed out and come alive.

The Spine Of Night is a visually impressive tale but one that is too short to deliver on its scope and promise.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

Director: Philip Gelatt, Morgan Galen King
Stars: Richard E. Grant, Lucy Lawless, Patton Oswalt, Joe Manganiello
Runtime: 93 minutes
Country: USA

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