Saturday, 28 November 2015

Film Review - 'Knights of Badassdom'

After being dumped by his girlfriend, part-time mechanic and aspiring musician, Joe (Ryan Kwanton), looks to a bottle of whiskey and an impressive bong for comfort. After a night of drinking and smoking pot with his two closest friends, though, he wakes the next morning to find himself laying in the back of a van and dressed in what appears to be an impressively authentic looking suit of armor. It seems that his friends, Hung (Peter Dinklage) and Eric (Steve Zahn), are heavily involved in LARP (or, live action role-play, for the uninitiated), and have decided that dragging Joe along to a weekend-long LARP event would be the best way to take his mind off of his troubles. Joe is, perhaps understandably, a little irritated with his friends, at first, though gradually allows himself to be talked into taking part.

Later, Joe meets up with the rest of his companions for the weekend: Gwen (Summer Glau), who is only reluctantly taking part in order to look after her cousin; Gunther (Brett Gipson), Gwen's cousin, a player so invested in his imaginary life that he cannot seem to break character even when confronted by an actual monster; and, Lando (Danny Pudi), a player not above breaking the rules of the game if it means he can win.

While playing out a summoning ritual early on, though, Eric pulls out his latest prop - an old book that he found for sale on eBay. Fully immersed in his role as the group's master of magic, Eric recites a spell from the book. Of course, the book turns out to be real - and, the spell Eric had just recited allows him to inadvertently open a gate to hell, and summon a real demon into the world. A succubus, to be exact - one who takes the form of Joe's ex-girlfriend, Beth (Margarita Levieva, in both roles), as it sets about stealing the souls of innocent LARPers.

Fortunately, though, they still have the book - and, Eric also happens to have made a lucrative business out of selling high quality replica weapons and armour, and he happens to have brought some along to sell to fellow LARPers. So, our heroes aren't entirely defenceless.

Knights of Badassdom is a film that seems to be aimed at a very particular niche audience. So much so, in fact, that the one question I can't really answer is exactly how familiar you would have to be with this eccentric little sub-culture in order to be able to appreciate the humor of the film. Knights of Badassdom gets a fair amount of mileage out of its depiction of LARPing, and of the people who willingly engage in it - but, it also manages to do this without ever feeling like it is laughing at them. These scenes may be filled with ridiculous props, wild over-acting, and horribly butchered attempts at 'ye olde English', but it is always good-natured - acknowledging how ridiculous the hobby must look to a casual observer while, at the same time, also showing how much fun those involved are clearly having. As someone who has spent quite a bit of time, in the past, role-playing around a table, I appreciated this attention to detail - role-playing is a ridiculous hobby, but it can also be a lot of fun. Making the LARPers the butt of the joke, here, would have been too easy - so, I'm glad that the film aimed a little higher. Though, that being said, I still can't really say, for sure, whether someone unfamiliar with role-playing would feel the same way that I do. The film wont convince you that LARPing is actually a worthwhile hobby - but, to its credit, it is clearly not trying to do so.

At first, the contrast between these scenes of the LARPers doing their thing, and scenes of the succubus killing her victims, is somewhat jarring. The shift in tone from what seems to be, essentially, a fairly light-hearted comedy to something much more violent (though, admittedly, still with a touch of dark humour) feels more than a little like having scenes from two different films hastily cobbled together. Eventually, though, the two distinct halves of the film begin to merge - leading to even more displays of gloriously over-the-top violence as our heroes finally learn of the existence of the succubus, and come to terms with the fact that they may be the only ones capable of stopping it. And, it all culminates in a truly fantastic climax - even if it does include one of the most dubiously low-budget monsters I've seen recently. By that point, the film has entirely embraced its true identity as a B-movie horror/comedy - and, the cheap, and somewhat tacky, looking monster just becomes part of its charm. Honestly, it's all so much damn fun that I was even willing to forgive those points where the film doesn't make a whole lot of sense. It is, for example, more than a bit of a stretch to have the Game Master of a LARP suddenly turn out to be familiar with the language that a legitimate book of spells was written in - but, by that point, I genuinely didn't care.

Now, I do feel like I need to, at least, acknowledge some of the issues faced by this film (even if I am, admittedly, only vaguely aware of exactly what went on). Knights of Badassdom had spent a few years temporarily shelved, only to finally be released in a form very different from what director, Joe Lynch, originally intended. It is certainly a shame to go into this film knowing that it is not truly what the director wanted - but, at the same time, I still enjoyed this version quite a bit. I have no idea what a 'Director's Cut' of this film would actually look like (whether it would, for example, be more 'horror' and less 'comedy' - or, simply more violent) - but, if the version that Joe Lynch wanted to make actually is superior, then I would love to see it sometime. The film we got, though, is still a very entertaining mix of horror and comedy that fully embraces its B-movie status. It's a film filled with endearingly eccentric characters, played by actors who all clearly seem to be enjoying themselves. Knights of Badassdom clearly isn't a film for everything - but, if you can approach the idea of LARP without rolling your eyes, and find yourself in the mood for some cheap, and wonderfully cheesy, B-grade horror, then it is a film you are likely to enjoy.

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