Saturday, August 28, 2010


With films like Dog Soldiers and The Descent under his belt, British writer and director Neil Marshall now has the clout to broaden horizons and show the world (and a mainstream audience) just how much talent is at his disposal. His previous forays into horror have showcased a director with a penchant for hardcore character development, followed by a brutal showdown with enemy forces that may (or may not be) supernatural in nature. At the end of things, survivors are rare. With Centurion, he has stuck to his tried formula … but expanded things out to encompass a stage less domestic, using entire countries as the playground. Here, the monsters are human, but no less depraved than those previously on display. 

Our Centurion is Quintus Dias, a Roman soldier who is the sole survivor of a bloody raid that saw his company decimated by the Picts … a savage and mysterious clan who refuse to fold into the Roman Empire and are employing guerrilla tactics preventing them from securing Britain. His next mission is to join ranks with the Ninth Legion and wipe out the Picts once and for all. But when an ambush ensues an even bigger slaughter takes place, he now leads a cabal of survivors across unforgiving terrain to reach his homeland again. And their presence his known by the Picts, who relentlessly hunt them.

It should go without saying this kind of story is uncharted territory, far removed from the contained nuance of something like The Descent. And the result? Surprises at every turn. Above all, this is a British/Scottish cast and world, full of breath-taking scenery and gritty film-making that only comes from doing the hard yards away from the Hollywood epicenter. For horror fans, the scenes of battle and carnage are prevalent, often accomplished with realistic expertise. You'll feel totally ensconced within the cold, harsh reality of a Roman frontier. Much like Tarantino did with Kill BillI have a feeling Marshall was schooling himself on set to be an action director, while still keeping the human element alive and true. One performance by the mute hunter Etain (Olga Kurylenko) is worthy of distinction.

There are a couple of set-backs, most notably a romance that never quite takes off. But one gets the feeling studio interference - to encompass a broader audience - was probably at play here. With a larger budget, sacrifices will be made.

I have little doubt knee-jerk reactions will arise comparing this with both 
Dog Soldiers and The Descent, perhaps in an impoverished light. Over time, however, Centurion will eventually join the pantheon as a minor classic of the genre.