Movie Review: Backbone of the Night

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Film review: The spine of the night
Directors: Philip Gelatt and Morgan Galen King

Yellow Sail Pictures
Released: 18.03.21

It is clear from the start of The spine of the night that it’s a movie that doesn’t try to make friends. The animated feature, written and directed by Philip Gelatt and Morgan Galen King, opens with a nearly naked, bone-clad woman named Tzod (Lawless Lucy) climbing a storm-beaten mountain under the light of the cosmos. What she finds at the top is The Guardian (Richard E. Grant), the latest in an ancient line of sentries tasked with protecting The Bloom, a sacred flower with magical properties. If that sounds like a lot, let me reaffirm that this is how the movie begin.

Much of what follows is a hand-drawn animated spectacle that is indebted to many influences. It’s as if the worlds of masters of the universe and madmax had a grotesque baby who was raised solely on the literary work Beowulfthe philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche and the music of Freak. There are plans that recall the entry of King Xerxes into Zack Snyderit is 300 and the seat of Gondor in peter jacksonit is The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. If you’re not particularly interested in the above, then I’d probably avoid this movie. It’s as gruesome and ambitious as any animation I’ve seen, almost to the fault.

One of the film’s strengths is its beautiful hand-drawn animation, a technique that has largely gone out of fashion in mainstream Western animation, which has favored computer animation ever since. Pixar revolutionized the style in the 90s. Not only is it refreshing to see an animated feature that contrasts so much with the Disney-dominated landscape of the past 30 years, it’s surprising to see one that’s the antithesis of everything popular western animation did at that time as well. .

The spine of the night is as impenetrable as it is excessively violent – many razed villages, immolations and eviscerations for the whole family. He’s overambitious, trying to tackle topics ranging from nihilism to religious tyranny. Lofty ideas take precedence over a gripping narrative, so there’s very little for the viewer to take away when it comes to the characters. There’s a clear protagonist and antagonist, but the rest is left to guesswork. The world of film is rich, introducing entire civilizations and religious orders, but the filmmakers don’t take the time to explore any of it. Without the visual embodiment of the blackened, psychedelic death metal shown on screen, the overloaded plot would easily crumble under this ambition. With a few exceptions—Lawless, Grant and betty gabriel among them, the voice performance also leaves a bit to be desired.

Despite The spine of the night, it is an undeniable feast for the eyes. Its sub-90 minute runtime is a huge plus, as the film probably couldn’t handle being extended much beyond that. If the filmmakers stuck to one of the two (or three) movie ideas contained in the film, we might have had a cult classic on our hands. Either way, there are those who will find plenty to love here – fans of heavy metal, gory hand-drawn animations and psychedelic visuals will likely find a home in The world of The spine of the night. For the faint-hearted and those who can’t stand 90 minutes of style over substance, your feet are better grounded in our world. –Brandon Ermer

Read more reviews of unconventional animated films:
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Film review: America: the movie

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