Film review: “Dawn of the Dragonslayer”

First, a digression: the SyFy Channel, much like MTV before it, has done considerable damage to the very thing it first embraced. Now the phrase, “A SyFy Original Movie” elicits the same sort of laughter as Mystery Science Theatre 3000, and for the same reason: you hear it and you know you’re in for a bad movie. And SyFy is content with that: after all, if audiences are laughing, that means they’re watching.  So we now have an entire subgenre, the SyFy movie, with casts either culled from past cult shows or featuring newcomers with the talent of an infomercial audience plant; the same generic Eastern European scenery represents everything from Tennessee to Sherwood Forest; and the scripts…well, they’re as bad as my first drafts (which is pretty bad). And don’t even mention the special effects.  And this is where most of our low-budget, independent fantasy films now come from.

All this makes Dawn of the Dragonslayer, an indie fantasy film directed by Anne B. Black (and not, let me be clear, connected in any way with SyFy), that much more extraordinary and interesting.  It couldn’t have cost much more than most SyFy movies, yet the things that don’t depend on money–talent, the desire to do good work, and belief in the project at hand–nudge it into the realm of real cinema.  It’s low budget, but not low rent.

The story begins when Will Shepherd, a…shepherd, leaves home after a dragon kills his father. He seeks to serve as bondsman to Lord Sterling, with the aim of being elevated to knighthood.  Sterling’s holdings have been devastated by the plague, and only he, his daughter and a few worthless servants remain. Will and Kate Sterling fall in love, a union threatened by class distinctions, a vile rival knight and the reappearance of the dragon.

Kate (Nicola Posener) and Will (Richard McWilliams)

To be fair, there’s a certain dourness to the film that prevents it from being as much fun as it might.  But it gets so many other things right, especially compared to what’s normally found in indie fantasy films, that it’s easy to overlook this.  The film was shot on the west coast of Ireland, and thus has an unexpected scenic beauty.  The acting, especially from leads Richard McWilliams and Nicola Posener, is solid and at times inspired. Further, while both are attractive, they also look suited to the story’s time and place (no pouty false lips on her, no gym-rat abs on him). The lack of scale–a cast of less than a dozen and virtually a single setting–is used to the story’s advantage, not as something to be ignored with a cynical wink and nudge.  And Panu Aaltio’s music is lush and romantic.

I did a lot of research on dragons for my own dragon novel, Burn Me Deadly, so I appreciate them when they’re well-done and get probably too annoyed for my own good when they’re bad.  This dragon, for the most part, is pretty good.  Most importantly it seems an organic part of the film’s world, visible through the mist in the distance or just behind the clouds, blending in or flitting out of sight.  At the climax we get our first good look at it, and while it’s a little over-designed, it never loses that sense of belonging to this time and place.  There’s a brilliant shot of it lying dead* on the rocks, waves crashing around it.

The dragon itself.

My only real criticism is the dearth of humor.  Will is a serious young hero, and the film takes its cue from him; a lighter touch might’ve made the film move faster. And I must say I prefer the original title, Paladin, to its rather generic replacement.

Still, from the first epic shot of Ireland’s coast to the final romantic image, it’s clear that real love and attention was put into Dawn of the Dragonslayer.  There’s a film here bigger than its budget, and I hope it finds an audience.

Watch for an interview with director Anne B. Black and producer Kynan Griffin, appearing here soon.

*Come on, that’s not a spoiler; the film has Dragonslayer in the title and you expect a dragon not to be slain?

18 Comments on “Film review: “Dawn of the Dragonslayer””

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  5. Really enjoyed this film. Realitically done. Terrific photography of Ireland. Well acted. Good digital effects.
    Quality product.
    I’d like to see more.

  6. So glad I read your review as I was about to skip over this one. I was pleasantly surprised. Thanks for the informative review on an atypical movie.

  7. Completely agree with your review of this movie and enjoyed this film. Just wanted to mention one thing about this movie. It has some truly remarkable similarities to The Man from Snowy River, at least in the story line so if you found this good might want to check out the other, lol.

    1. I completely agree. I was just watching this movie and thought the same thing. It is almost identical to “Man from Snowy River.” From the Death of the father; the man coming down from the hills; the other men don’t get along with him except the quiet one; the early fight with the dragon; the girl runs off; and so on. As far as I can tell, the only difference is the time it’s set in and there is a dragon and not a horse. This movie, although pretty good, is a rip-off of “Man from Snowy River.”

  8. I am tired of Redbox renting low budget films so I read this review first and gave it a shot. I appreciate your review because it was honest and accurate and I enjoyed it very much. Thanks!

  9. I appreciate your frank review. I too watched it and came up with this:

    The cinematography/shots are well done but the story as you mentioned entities is dour. Interesting but with a touch of boring.

    It was shot in Ireland but implies Scotland (highland/lowland references). Kind of a weird faux paux but ok.

    But The moment in the stiry I could no longer suspend disbelief is when our hero expires a girl mending a wall wearing a dress and all made up- hair is perfect, dress is refined, etc. total effing cheese.

    Now I don’t know who is responsible for the rough continuity, the drwn out shots and video editing, or the story staying in period and characters in context. But aside from competent visuals and camera work, this film totally belongs in the Mystery Science theatre collection as taken as a work in whole, it is laughably horrible.

  10. And it gets worse. Will was supposed to pick up a white stallion his bond master won. He comes back with a roan. Really? WTF?!?

    Will then pours out something on the cliffs to assist in slaying the dragon. is it blood- is it oil? we’ll never know because whatever it is we never come back to its purpose!

    A quick note on will: lets see- no believable with a sword, and btw- did you see him run?? It’s like a Quasimodo gait. His acting wasn’t half bad- but his lack of believable athleticism prompts me to say – who effing cast this guy?!?

    finally Will kills the dragon and takes…the eggs as proof?!? Doesn’t bring back the shard of sword he lost, the dragons head or some other item as true providence the dragon is dead?!?

    Did the people involved even watch this blaring POS before they shipped it? I feel horrible for the audio and photography pro’s on this, and the heroine, her father and the aunt because frankly their acting was very well done (especially the aunt!), because The rest of the elements in this hack of a film are not worthy if their efforts.

    Ma”s. black, her writer and producers need to go back to film 101 because they made a complete mess of something that had plenty of opportunity to be something quite good. To paraphrase my father- “what a bunch of dumbasses”.

  11. Excellent film. I agree with the reviewer. Really, of all the dragon movies I’ve seen, I like this the best. Can’t quite understand some of the dialect, though.

  12. I loved the movie and have to admit the biggest draw for me was the stunning filming sites in Ireland. I mean it was not bad at all for a B grade film and I actually would rate it a B+. Enjoyed the banter of the Irish & English cast as well…

  13. The seriousness made the setting more believable to me. Too many genre films descend into self parody by trying to add comedy. Nice to see a film where their characters actually believe in the events going on in the story enough not to try to break the fourth wall by cracking jokes.

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