SXSW Movie Review The Spine of Night

The first unit in most American Literature classes is a survey of native origin stories. These often focus on indigenous folklore about the creation of life on earth. The newest feature by Philip Gelatt and Morgan Galen King offers its own interpretation of one of these stories. A rotoscoped masterpiece of storytelling and animation The Spine of Night offers a movie that uses the best parts of the classic Heavy Metal while introducing a story that feels perfectly suited for our current situation.

In a interview with Signal Horizon both writers remarked on the importance of world building. The lands created by The Spine of Night feels medieval, aboriginal, modern, and magical. In short it feels of this world but certainly not from it.

As the story progresses we meet aboriginal priests, selfish royalty, evil alchemists, and valiant magical warriors. The movie functions as an anthology with the lines between stories blending seamlessly into the fabric of the new world. With an A list voice cast including Lucy Lawless, Patton Oswalt, and Joe Manganiello each new story feels epic. Despite a very stylized feel the acting always feels authentic and the talent completely invested in their own performances. In short its quite compelling.

The story is sprawling and starts by exploring the relationship of the swamp and its inhabitants to the surrounding kingdom which seems to be run ostensibly by Lord Pyratin (Patton Oswalt). The leader of the swamp is Tzod the spiritual leader of her people who introduces the leaders of the kingdom to a blue flower with magical powers. As the film progresses these blue flowers provide the connective tissue that ties all of the disparate paths together.

The completeness of the storytelling and the world makes all of it feel epic and grand. If the odyssey introduced characters that have become iconic, the archetypes in The Spine of Night feel the same way. Each could be its own protagonist. Each its own story. I can’t help but feel this may be our first foray into this world but it surely won’t be the last. Both writers confirmed they would love to revisit the world that they have created even if there isn’t anything currently in production.

The Spine of Night is not your Disney cartoon. Rather it borrows openly from sword and sorcery material including its open use of nudity and ultra violence. If you liked Beastmaster or Conan the Barbarian this will be seriously your jam. Especially if you thought to yourself what Red Sonja needs is more psychedelia. The rotoscoping also gives it a early Masters of the Universe vibe which absolutely covered my eighties nostalgia itch quite well. So if you are thinking The Spine of Night is sort of like Castle Grey Skull meets Yellow Submarine. Yep you would be about right.

While it does pay homage to Heavy Metal it is a wholly different and arguable better movie. Unlike Heavy Metal which seems focused on being disruptive and pushing the boundaries of what we thought animation could be, The Spine of Night wants to tell a good story too. It accomplishes both keeping the audiences entertained with top notch storytelling and beautifully directed animation.

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