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Fantastic Fest Review: Solomon Kane

By  · Published on September 25th, 2009

Solomon Kane, based on a graphic novel of the same name, is the story of a brutal, merciless 17th century English warrior dismembering his way across the known world. He runs afoul of a representative from the devil’s collection agency who informs him that his soul is past due. He manages to escape but realizes his warmongering is the character flaw that has his soul in a precarious position. He takes up a life of peace; swearing never to fight again. But wouldn’t you know it, happens to be the same time that an unspeakable evil is threatening to consume all of England in darkness. Will he save his people or his own soul? Film at 11.

After the dismal failure of the opening night film, Gentlemen Broncos, I needed something to kick off my festival in the traditional, beloved Fantastic Fest style; Solomon Kane obliged. It is a killer period superhero flick that, despite the absence of major backing, harbors aspirations of a big studio film. The production value here is phenomenal. The sets are not only beautiful, but they add a sense of scale to the world of the film. The cinematography cannot be overlooked as each shot seems painstakingly crafted which is amazing considering independent or pseudo-independent period action films usually take production design cues from episodes of “Wishbone”. The score is also very impressive here. It’s not a surprise that Klaus Badelt would provide a pulsing, perfectly complementary score, but it is a surprise that an independent film like this would shell out the cash to get someone like Badelt.

Don’t let the fact that this film looks and sounds amazing distract you from the pure awesomeness of it. Solomon Kane is a man well-versed in swordsmanship and he delights, at least during the opening scenes, in divorcing soldiers from their heads. The action sequences are well choreographed and, for the most part, don’t suffer from the jump-cut disease afflicting several modern actioners. And again, this is a superhero film so we are treated to the classic fare of the genre: the origin story, the moment where the hero questions his abilities and his quest, and the super badass slow-mo cape adorning. We even get a montage as our hero first takes on the mantle! The hero in this case comes from a place of evil and must constantly wrestle with his nature and his past which is something I always appreciate. I am always intrigued by heroes who were villains and villains who were once heroes because it challenges the subjectivity of good and evil. Plus he totally kills a shit ton of bad guys with a big ass sword!

I think the thing I love most about this film is that it never feels cheap. There was obviously a great deal of care taken with the writing and directing to ensure that this film stands apart from others like it. The characters are more-often-then-not complex and interesting. James Purfoy plays Kane with the kind of intensity that yields gleeful displays of violence, but also negotiates the moments of inner conflict with ease. Peter Postlethwaite, as the patriarch of Kane’s surrogate family, is so endearing that even the modestly slow moments of an otherwise impecibly-paced film never cease to be engaging. The storytelling is epic, well-constructed, and thoroughly entertaining. I especially loved the Star Wars-esque family revelations that you expect to come across as forced, but actually seemed honest and nicely complemented an already multi-layered story. And there is not one line, not even those in the action hero quip vein, that falter on delivery. Solid screenwriting throughout. Finally there is a beautiful balance struck here between practical effects and CG that spotlights a competence in both arenas. Watch for the practical effect zombies that should have been featured in I Am Legend instead of the rubbery offspring of Arnold Vasloo that we got.

The only negative I can conceive of for Solomon Kane may not be a negative at all. Apparently writer/director Michael J. Bassett took a great deal of liberty with the character’s origin. Having never read a single entry of the series I have no frame of reference, but the potential exists for this film to disappoint a regular reader. But that’s about it. I feel this is another film that was destined to play Fantastic Fest from the moment the last reel was in the can. It exemplifies everything we film geeks love about our festival and provides a shot-in-the-arm for independent genre films. Sure it is loads of fun, but it refuses to use that as a crutch and holds itself to incredibly high standards that ultimately pay off in a big way.

The Upside: Kickass swordplay, a great superhero story with an epic flavor, and a level of filmmaking that belies it’s small film status.

The Downside: If you dig the books, Bassett does play it fast and loose with the canon so it may just piss you off.

On the Side: The character of Solomon Kane was created by Robert E. Howard who also created Conan so you know he can create badass fantasy heroes. Also, for Fantastic Fest regulars, if you loved Wolfhound during FF3, and were fortunate to catch its one screening, this film is for you. True, Solomon Kane has also been relegated to one screening this year but with this caliber of film and the undeniably marketability, there is no way this will not get distribution.

Longtime FSR columnist, current host of FSR’s Junkfood Cinema podcast. President of the Austin Film Critics Association.