Canst Thou Handle It?
After directing the surprise hit Wrong Turn 2: Dead End, Joe Lynch was tapped to direct Knights of Badassdom, a film described as part fantasy epic, part comedy, and part horror. And he does a great job, having been raised on a diet of B-movies and a true love of all things horror.
On our quest we meet Joe (Ryan Kwanten, True Blood) who is having a bad day. His girlfriend just broke up with him and made him question his place in life. Thankfully, he has two best friends who are there for him in his hour of need. Of course their idea of helping is to get Joe so high and drunk he passes out. When he awakes, it’s to discover he’s been redressed to join his friends Hung (Peter Dinklage, Game of Thrones) and Eric (Steve Zahn, Treme) for a weekend of LARP-ing. Joe is reluctant, though Eric points out “You played D&D. Live action role play is the next level.” It takes some convincing, but he agrees to participate rather than return home to wallow in misery.
It’s a decision he warms to even more when he meets the beautiful Gwen (Summer Glau, Serenity), a badass LARPer who’s there with her cousin, Gunther (Brett Gipson, Stricken). Their Game Master is Ronnie (Jimmi Simpson, Breakout Kings), who insists Eric perform a spell to transfer the life-force of the person whose place Joe is taking. Eric is thrilled, having recently made an eBay purchase of an old spell book he plans to use. Too bad the book is actually a lost Enochian relic. Even more bad news awaits the gang, as Eric accidentally conjures a succubus who’s hell-bent on sucking the souls out of everyone she encounters. Maybe the worst part is her actual appearance, as she adopts the persona of Joe’s newly ex-girlfriend Beth (Margarita Levieva, Adventureland). So while the LARPers prepare for the epic Battle of Evermore, they’re actually being stalked by a hell beast. When the truth is finally revealed, it falls to our intrepid band of heroes to send the succubus back to her hellish domain.
Knights of Badassdom works for one reason and one reason alone — sincerity. There is a commitment to every aspect of the film and it plays in such a way as to earn the audience’s approval. The commitment begins with the script, a tightly written piece clocking in at just less than an hour and a half. But the one overarching aspect of sincerity which bonds everything else together is the refusal of the filmmakers to make fun of LARPing.
For those not in the know, Live Action Role Play can be thought of as getting together with your friends to re-enact some of your favorite fantasy battles, akin to Civil War reenactments. Making fun of LARPing would make Knights of Badassdom a much different and less fun movie. Taking the real-life culture seriously lends a gravitas to the film which allows the audience to more deeply connect with the characters, and thus the stakes are heightened. We need to care whether these people live or die because, without giving anything away, there are deaths you won’t see coming.
Every member of the cast takes their role seriously, without even a hint of winking to the camera, and it works well. The caliber of the actors is already high, but their willingness to embrace the complete experience means we believe in them. I especially loved Jimmi Simpson’s performance. I usually see him as more of a straight-up villain, but with Ronnie he takes a different approach. Ronnie could have very easily become merely a caricature, but the way Simpson embraces him means he’s able to stretch the boundaries of what the character can believably get away with saying and doing. Which is something all of these actors share, to varying degrees.
One of my favorite things about Knights of Badassdom is the practical approach to the special effects. Refusing to use CGI lends a wonderful vibe to the movie, akin to watching some of the great slasher films of the 1980s. Though the film operates on a low-budget, the effects don’t give that away, the craftsmen committing completely to making the blood, guts, gore, and detritus look as realistic as possible.
Presented in 2.40:1/1080p HD widescreen, a lot of the action takes place at night and the black levels never obscure the characters, the killings, or the all-important reds of the blood. The palette favors reds and though the characters are a bit more muted they are still colorful. The sound is a truly lovely DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track and it definitely puts your system to work. There’s plenty of metal music, stingers, screams and Foley populating the soundscape and the track is well balanced and never blows out. Bonus features include a montage, some interviews, trailers, and the entire Comic-Con 2011 panel including Q&A portion.
Knights of Badassdom is a breath of fresh air on a landscape of CGI horror films. It manages to balance humor and horror in a very effective way and the sincerity which permeates every aspect of the film bleeds through and makes watching it a genuine treat.