Thursday, May 23, 2013

SyFy vs. the Mynd: Jabberwock (2011)

In a curious medieval Europe (one supposes, at least the film mentions the Romans, so should take place on planet Earth; filming did of course take place in Bulgaria) full of American accents, where neither church nor liege lords seem to exist, but rather a lot of short swords are bandied about, a lightning storm - that all-purpose fiend - opens the remaining egg of one of the horrible flying creatures which once created the local wastelands. The Jabberwock, as the creature only still remembered via a children's rhyme (or - cough - what we know as a poem by Lewis Carroll), is called, follows an unlucky traveller (Raffaello Degruttola) to a peculiar local village whose inhabitants live from who knows what yet still have a weapon smith if no other visible means of subsistence.

The creature - as is creatures' wont - starts terrorizing the countryside, killing people and grabbing take-away virgins to eat. It will fall to Francis (Tahmoh Penikett), the smith I mentioned, his undeclared love interest Anabel (Kacey Barnfield), his dying father Reginald (Hugh Ross), and his warrior brother just returning from war Alec (Michael Worth) to find a way to get rid of the monster. Their plan will involve a dubious looking home-made armour and an oversized mouse trap, so surely nothing can go wrong.

Oh no, it's another SyFy production I liked. Despite its curiously weak worldbuilding (seriously, what do these people live off, and what are Anabel and the other villagers doing when they're not fighting a monster, and so on?), Steven R. Monroe's sword and sorcery without the sorcery movie is a really fine time.

Sure, it's not a deep film, and I sure as hell could have lived without the "Tamoh Penikett is finally growing up and learning to grow closer to his family (too bad they'll have to die for it)" subplot, but the film does at least handle its cliché characters development with a firm hand, and the actors work pretty well together, so that the character parts are never standing in the way of the medieval monster movie parts, are in fact motivating them in a not subtle yet useful manner. Plus, there's no annoying comic relief at all, the film taking its smith versus monster plot seriously.

Talking about the Jabberwock, the monster in question is a decent CGI creation with a pretty interesting looking head that is of course at its most convincing when it's alone on screen, and is the most troublesome when it's supposed to interact with the characters around it. There's an early scene with the creature sitting on the village's wall (by the way, wouldn't that kind of wall not make it a town?), and the villagers fighting it where perspective and reach seem particularly dubious, but for most of the time, Monroe shoots around the limitations of its creature well enough.

Working around the limitations of his material and his budget is really what Monroe does for most of the time here, turning out a low budget sword and sorcery CGI monster movie that gains quite an entertaining pull through its insistence on not taking lazy shortcuts when it doesn't need to, and telling an old story with enough conviction to make it feel lively again.

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