SXSW 2021 Review: The Spine of Night

Year: 2021

Runtime: 93 minutes

Directors: Philip Gelatt, Morgan Galen King

Writers: Philip Gelatt, Morgan Galen King

Actors: Richard E. Grant, Lucy Lawless, Patton Oswalt, Jordon Smith, Betty, Gabriel, Joe Manganiello, Tom Lipinski, Nina Lisandrello

By Joan Amenn

Once upon a time there was a Necromancer of Animation known as Ralph Bakshi. His onscreen magic consists of such animated films as “Wizards” (1977), “The Lord of the Rings (1978), and, infamously, “Fritz the Cat” (1972). Make no mistake, these were not children’s cartoons. The power of his work and its influence can be seen decades later in “The Spine of Night’ (2021).

Rotoscoping can be a tricky animation technique to pull off but directors Philip Gelatt and Morgan Galen King make it work even if occasionally, their characters seem to not completely integrate with the gorgeous background art. Influences of Frank Frazetta and Boris Vallejo are obvious in the art direction which can be stunningly beautiful. Lucy Lawless plays the Swamp Witch Tzod, in a great bit of casting. Her scenes with Richard E. Grant as the Guardian are wonderful as the story becomes a post-apocalyptic “Arabian Nights.” Some of her stories don’t quite work as powerfully as others and there are plot holes that can be frustrating and unsatisfying. However, there are some great cameos, such as Patton Oswalt as a despotic ruler and Joe Manganiello as a brusque soldier.

This is the kind of film teenagers used to watch late at night when their parents weren’t home so they could bask in violent fantasy and even horror to their heart’s content. It has all the makings of developing a cult following very soon. “The Spine of Night” brings back memories of when animation was considered kid stuff. It reminds us that animation is not a genre but just another film technique to tell compelling, adult stories and deserves more respect than it has traditionally been shown.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s