- Written and Directed by Philip Gelatt and Morgan Galen King
- March 18, 2021 (SXSW) / October 29, 2021 (US) / December 24, 2021 (Spain)
- The Guardian-Richard E. Grant
- Tzod-Lucy Lawless
- Lord Pyrantin-Patton Oswalt
- Phae-Agura-Betty Gabriel
- Mongrel-Joe Manganiello
- Ghal-Sur-Jordan Douglas Smith
- Doa-Patrick Breen
- Prophet of Doom-Larry Fessenden
- Falconhawk-Tom Lipinski
- Sparrowcrow-Nina Lisandrello
- Kestelwren-Abigail Savage
- Gull-Rob McClure
- Dae-Maggie Lakis
When a powerful magic falls into sinister hands, a generational struggle ensues to defeat it.
Rare is the American made adult oriented animated feature. The Spine of Night in that regard is quite unusual. There are no cute animals or catchy songs. This is a dark and violent tale filled with blood and gore all taking place in a magical world. It borrows from this and that not make an animated movie not aimed at children.
The structure of the story is a bit reminiscent of the animated film Heavy Metal. A great and powerful force causes chaos and destruction in a series of shorter subjects largely connected by the presence of that power. In Heavy Metal it was an orb. In this case it’s a magic flower at one point found only on a snow-covered mountain but that has since managed to spread.
Visually much of what we get here looks like a Frank Frazetta painting brought to life. It is dark and foreboding but also capable of looking epic. It is a rich and realized world with a tinge of decay and corruption. And thoroughly beautiful in its presentation.
The animation itself uses a rotoscope style where the live action is shot and the animation is created from that. This technique gives it a relatively unique look among other animated efforts which aids the dark atmosphere they are trying to go for. The process creates a level of realism that standard animation does not.
There’s a lot of nudity in The Spine of Night and I’m not sure why. I am not necessarily against nudity in anything. I know the story is supposed to be more adult, but it seems misplaced at points. For example the sorceress shaman Tzod we see in the opener is buck naked aside from a headpiece and not much else. And Tzod is trekking through the snow! She’s not the only one you will see but she’s the first example you will see.
I know this is meant to be a fantasy world but there is a lot of impracticality in the way the characters often dress. Sometimes the costumes are little more than broad strips strategically placed on the body while others are pretty much nothing at all. It’s as if they are doing it because they can since this is for adults. It has little to do with the story.
And that also leads into the level of gore we get. There can be a place for gore in any movie but only when necessary to move the story along and to emphasize something. But often in The Spine of Night it is done because they can and thus you become quite desensitized to it. It is all a big “Meh!”
Individually the stories are pretty good as it is a series of interconnected narratives. While it does take that que from Heavy Metal, the story is very much tighter connection than the ones in that movie. This is a narrative that takes place over a great period of time and as such involves a great many characters.
While each narrative is strong on their own, as a whole it feels like it wonders around a little bit in order to get to the end. And the ending feels a bit like a rip off of Heavy Metal with the difference being that our hero isn’t reincarnated but rather resurrected.
If this story has anything to say it is that you will be betrayed by others for power and those in power care for nothing but acquiring power. The chief villain Ghal-Sur starts out as a scholar and then abruptly betrays Tzod to get the bloom with no reason why. Does he understand the full power of the bloom or know its history somehow? We never really learn. He sees a small display of power and that is enough. Up until the betrayal he shows no signs that he would do such a thing. He even protects Tzod. It was abrupt.
The movie relies more on presentation of cool than it does on cohesion of its parts. It is visually stunning but narratively just adequate as a whole. The link feels weak and does not contribute to something larger.
The Spine of Night is an okay film. I won’t call it great but it’s entertaining for what it is which is a dark fantasy. It’s not a must see but it is something I will encourage you to seek out.