Bring out your dead...!

Based on the Robert E Howard novel of the same name, this movie will probably attract the usual ire of Howard fans, who worry perenially that his work will be mocked in film – a fear I can understand, though I don’t agree with it. In any case, in this situation it doesn’t matter, since I’d never heard of Solomon Kane or read the novels, and in fact I barely knew it was based on one when I watched it. So I was forced to watch it not as a grumpy fanboy, but as a person watching a movie.

The basic story (of the movie) is about a chap called Solomon Kane, originally a local of 16th Century Devon, who spent most of his life being thoroughly evil, until he discovered that were he ever to kill again, he would go straight to hell. His evilness, his viciousness, his skill and his fate are all shown very nicely in an action-packed first five minutes, in which it is also hinted that all his evil acts were performed in the service of Christendom (a nice touch, fortunately not explored further). Pacified by this sword of Damocles hanging over his head, he retreats to a monastery to begin a life of contemplation and prayer, which is cut short abruptly when he is cast out by the abbot, out of fear that he is bringing doom upon the church. He is forced to return to his homelands, and on the way he encounters what could perhaps mildly be described as a … situation … in which he has to decide between his soul and a girl’s life. The purifying power of a year in a 16th century church being what it is, he chooses to lose his soul, and this is all the pretext we need for an hour of outrageous slaughter and destruction, as he carves his way through everything and anything in his path. How can he redeem himself? Your guess is as good as mine, dear reader, but I feel his sins can be washed away if the river of blood is wide enough, and flows fast enough.

So, on the plus side, this movie has a simple and reliable plot (but for a silly and kind of pointless hiatus in the second third). I’m a fan of simple plots in action movies. I don’t care about the hero’s third cousin’s secret plot to sideline the third prince of Umar – I want to see who the hero kills, and how, and the third cousin might as well join the pile, and I don’t need to see much of a reason for it. It also has an excellent lead character (within the standards of an action movie), who fits a nice trope – used to be evil, balancing on a razor’s edge, hair-string temper – and a simple moral (redemption). All we need is a suitably thick red line to join these dots, and some nice fight scenes.

Which we get, in spades. It’s pretty standard choreography, but keeps a good pace and manages to introduce new and improved adversaries just when you’re getting bored of the current crop. There’s a lot of blood and gore and some very nasty death scenes, and there’s really no mercy to be seen anywhere in this story. No-one deserves any, and no-one gets any. So far so good.

The best part, though, is the style. I was reminded often of The Brotherhood of the Wolf, which I really love, by both the setting and the costumes. Solomon Kane himself looks very nice in his swish 16th century outfit, the bad guys are suitably freakish and feral, and the landscape he wanders through (and kills in) is blighted by war, mud and constant rain. It combines the mud and rain of Brotherhood of the Wolf with the by-now derigeur olden-days poverty depicted so well in Robin of Sherwood. Mud and rain is a good setting in which to carve your redemption out of the flesh of the Evil-doers, and my loungeroom is a suitably safe remove from which to view it. Also, at the beginning and the end the nature of the magic of the bad guys, using mirrors and shadows, is very nicely done. It’s reminiscent of the scenes in Alien when they find the hall full of eggs. If ever I walk into a room under a castle full of strangely non-reflective mirrors, here’s my plan: a) don’t stand too close to them, b) get out fast.

Also the guy who plays Solomon Kane, Michael Purefoy, is really very good. His acting was good and his voice perfect for the role of the irredeemably damned.

So, overall, unless you’re a Howard fan-boy and really can’t stand to see any version of his writing except the one in your head, I recommend this movie. But with one caveat: it is very violent. There is a scene of infanticide which I think will shock many viewers just a tad too much, and there’s quite a bit of gratuitous cold-blooded murder (by the hero). So, if you like your movies to remain fixed above a certain lower moral bound, probably don’t bother seeing this one.

Oh, and as a postscript: I stumbled on the advert at the website for The Daily Mash, which I strongly recommend.

Update: I was right to notice the similarities with Brotherhood of the Wolf – it had the same cinematographer.