Saturday, August 28, 2010

Review: Centurion

With films like Dog Soldiers and The Descent under his belt, British writer and director Neil Marshall now has the clout to broaden his 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 certain penchant for hardcore character development, followed by a brutal showdown with enemy forces that may or may not be supernatural in nature and do not leave many survivors. With Centurion, he has stuck to his tried formula … but expanded it and broadened it out to encompass a stage that is less domestic and uses entire countries as the playground. Here, his monsters are human … but no less depraved than those he has put on display before.

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 that are 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 and an even bigger slaughter takes place, he now leads a cabal of survivors across unforgiving terrain and set-backs to reach his homeland again. And their presence his known by the Picts, who relentlessly hunt them.

It should go without saying that for those of you expecting another cult film likeThe Descent, that is not what is on offer here. I for one applaud the decision of the Director to take the story into uncharted territory and see what the audience makes of it. And the result? Surprises at every turn. I will admit to not being prepared for how well things ultimately came together. Above all, it is refreshing to take a break from the mire that Hollywood sometimes is. This is a British/Scottish cast and world, full of breath-taking scenery and a gritty style of film-making that only comes from doing the hard yards away from celluloid’s capital. The scenes of battle and carnage are still there for horror fans, and they are done so with realistic expertise. An audience member will feel totally ensconced in the cold, harsh reality of the Roman frontier. I have a feeling that Neil Marshall was schooling himself on set (much like Tarantino did with Kill Bill), to be an action director. But he still keeps the human element alive and true. The performance by the mute and beautiful hunter Etain (Olga Kurylenko) is worthy of distinction.

There are a couple of set-backs, most notable a romance that never quite takes off. But we get the feeling it was probably the studios suggesting such changes to encompass a broader audience. With a much larger budget in tow, sometimes creators have to make some sacrifices to get their vision across. There will be a few nay-sayers whose knee jerk reaction is to quickly compare it to Dog Soldiers and The Descent in a negative light, but over time this film will join the pantheon as a minor classic of the already impressive resume of Neil Marshall.  

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