Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Solomon Kane (2009) dir Michael J. Bassett

I was finally able to see this movie (rented it online) last night.  Not having an all region DVD player kind of sucks sometimes since there are a number of movies that have not been released (particularly Spanish films) in the US - e.g. Alatriste.

Solomon Kane is one of Robert E. Howard's lesser known characters (I'm still waiting to see a Bran Mak Morn movie) and one I am only marginally familiar with myself.  I've always thought of him as a Pilgrim demon-hunter, which for a broad brush stroke portrait works.  After seeing the trailers for this dark fantasy/period piece I was pretty excited but never had much hope of it being released in the States.

I don't want to give anything about the movie away but I was genuinely surprised by its' quality from top to bottom.  James Purefoy is one of those English actors who I've seen in a number of films and television shows (John Carter of MarsIronclad, Rome, A Knight's Tale) but never really followed.  His depiction of Solomon Kane as an evil man trying to find redemption is both convincing and kind of troubling.  Troubling because Purefoy sells it even if it is a familiar trope.  There is an undercurrent of malice in Kane which sets him apart from the standard.  While he might have started as a good man, he embraced evil fully and only after a catastrophe sealed himself off from the outside world and renounced his malevolent, violent ways.

Kane is dark, far darker than the wretched Van Helsing (2004).  There were a couple of moments I was almost shocked by the direction the movie took.  It's dark enough to be a Warhammer movie (there were a number of times where I thought, "Jesus, why can't they make a Warhammer movie?") and does justice to Howard's style (one sequence will be familiar to Howard fans because he used it in a number of his stories).  This is more a horror movie than a dark fantasy adventure (though those elements are clearly marked).  Not for children as the R rating shows.  This is an ugly, grim movie and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Bassett wrote and directed Kane - as well as the fantastic, and sadly unknown, Death Watch (2002).  The man has a knack for the macabre and ultraviolence (I wonder if he's a Warhammer fan).  There were one or two moments in the script I went, "Wait, what?" but that's mainly because I have this feeling elements were cut for release.  Cinematographer Dan Lausten (whose work includes Silent Hill and Brotherhood of the Wolf) did excellent work and the camerawork is smooth and free from palsy cam.  There's a great deal of texture and depth to the look of the film, a richness, that could have easily been ended up as another blue wash, flat, or muddy.  The action is allowed to take place in a static frame, with editing allowed to create a sense of frenzy.  Creature design was pretty bad ass as were the effects (at two points I stopped the movie and rewound the sequences for sheer awesome factor).

There are a couple of moments where my suspension of disbelief was jarred but those quickly dissipated.  Once or twice I rolled my eyes at the dialogue and my familiarity with the genre meant there weren't any huge surprises (though Bassett does manage to throw a couple of solid curve balls into his script).  Kane is a welcome addition to a weird genre/sub-genre that's been making a comeback in the last decade which include Black Death (2010) and Season  of the Witch (2011).  I wouldn't necessarily call it dark fantasy because these are historical action films with a horror/supernatural twist.  I prefer the European feel to these (though Season is an American film and Nick Cage is good in it) over most historical horror based in the US (usually based during or after the American Civil War a la Jonah Hex).  It's almost the European answer to the Weird Western.

Check out Solomon Kane if you get the chance.  While I don't think it's as rewatchable as a movie like The Thirteenth Warrior (1999) it's definitely worth checking out.  Just put the kids to bed first (there's no nudity but there's plenty of ultraviolence and a sequence that kind of gave me the willies).     

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