"It’s a gory and graphic animated sorcery tale that thrives on its lack of subtlety"
SPINE OF NIGHT (2021)
A film like The Spine of Night isn’t going to be for everyone. It’s a gory and graphic animated sorcery tale that thrives on its lack of subtlety. Not unlike 1981’s adult animated fantasy Heavy Metal, The Spine of Night sits in a specific depraved wheelhouse that, if you’re prepared to surrender, will astound you with its boldness and lack of tact. This isn’t about a story, it’s about the spectacle.
Though admittedly Philip Gelatt and Morgan Galen King are working with a slight story, the hand-rotoscoped animation brings a certain timelessness to it. The ultraviolent imagery and graphic sexuality leans into a mentality of indulgence, but never once does it waver from its intent of excess. The throwback-style of animation and the content sprawled on screen suggest a type of degenerate freedom from Gelatt and King, as if they were honouring their younger selves who would hope their parents wouldn’t know what type of Cinemax movies they were recording on their VCRs in the dead of the night.
The Spine of Night feels like it has too much going on, and yet somehow not enough. This isn’t a film you view for its story, but what it does offer at least maintains interest as you wait for whichever horrifically brutal sequence will follow. Magic, orbs, swamp witches, tyrannical overlords…they’re all here for the taking as Gelatt and King’s script adopts an episodic temperament, framing the film as a story being told by Tzod (voiced by Lucy Lawless) to an ancient guardian about a magical bloom and the gods that it spawned from. As heavy-handed the film appears with its overarching theme of the corruption that comes with power and the violent cyclical mentality that proves to be unbroken, the sheer nonsense of its bloodshed constantly pulls you back in.
ACTING | CHARACTERS | DIALOGUE:
Gelatt and King seem to very much know their audience with their specific casting of geek-culture figures. In addition to Lawless who, even in her vocal work, expresses an assured feminine power, Joe Manganiello, Patton Oswalt, Betty Gabriel, and Richard E Grant are all on hand to lend their vocal prowess; you can practically hear Oswalt stroking his chin with wicked glee as the tyrannical Lord Pyrantin, who kidnaps Tzod in his typically evil desire to hone the bloom MacGuffin that projects the narrative forward.
VISUAL EFFECTS | MAKEUP | DESIGN:
Regardless of how you respond to the story, it’s undeniable that The Spine of Night’s main attractive ingredient is its visual outlay. The decision to aim for a more classic style of animation lends the film a certain originality in a time when advancements in the medium are more common.
MUSIC | SCORE | SOUND DESIGN:
With its sword, sorcery & sandal mind-frame, the film naturally adheres to the rousing musical scores that evoke the feeling of its genre.
If an extremely violent animated multi-chaptered tale fronted by a consistently naked barbaric woman sounds like it hones a certain appeal then The Spine of Night is a glorious place to start. A kinetically energized affair, Gelatt and King’s film is only for a niche audience, but there’s no doubt that wheelhouse are in for a hell of a ride.
THE SPINE OF NIGHT will be available in theaters, on demand and digital - October 29