The Spine of Night review – a heady concoction of steampunk and flower power | Movies


This animated feature is written and directed by Philip Gelatt, who previously made live-action horror pics They Remain and The Bleeding House, and Morgan Galen King; it is an American-made production but one indebted to the style and scope of classic Japanese anime, what with its fusion of 18-certificate worthy violence, steampunk fantasy elements and new age spiritualism. That all makes for a heady, fizzy mix that’s very watchable, probably even more so for viewers open to the use of chemical assistance. Still, there are passages where the narrative throughline gets rather muddled and you can only wonder where those characters with mechanical wings and plague doctor masks suddenly came from (or did you just fall asleep for a minute and imagine them?) It’s best not to think too hard about it and just let the striking imagery and saturated colours wash over your retinas.

The Spine of Night is set in a world that seems to be going through an historical period roughly analogous to our late medieval/early Renaissance era of colonialism and discovery, when better armed conquistadors with better weapons and fewer scruples conquer the native occupants of a swampy land. However, the indigenous people, who go about mostly naked all the time, have magical blue flower power, in the literal shape of a botanical tech that shamanistic priestess Tzod (voiced by Lucy Lawless) can control with her mind and do cool stuff with, like making lethal blue flames. But evil scholar Ghal-Sur (Jordan Douglas Smith) steals the blue flower from Tzod and wreaks havoc before someone else subjugates him. The whole saga is being recounted by Tzod to a figure called the Guardian (Richard E Grant) on top of a snowy mountain, which adds a not entirely necessary but decorative layer of meta on the top.

The expressiveness of the animation, especially on Tzod, is well observed, but the film as a whole can’t get away from that characteristically unsettling anime-style disconnect between the simplicity of the figures and the rich detail of the landscape.

The Spine of Night is available on 24 March on Shudder.

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