Back in 2011, I stumbled on Arrowstorm Entertainment’s Dawn of the Dragonslayer, a low-budget fantasy epic that had the look of a much more expensive film. But what really got my attention was the care given to the performances: leads Richard McWilliams and Nicola Posener really dug into their characters, and director Anne Black gave them the time to do so. When you’ve seen as many bad performances in genre films as I have, you really appreciate that sort of thing. (You can read my full review here, and an interview with director Black here.)
Arrowstorm’s upcoming release Mythica: A Quest for Heroes, the first of a projected five film series, has the same good qualities, and improves on some of the earlier film’s weak spots. Whereas Dawn was visually rather sparse, Mythica is lush: the interiors bristle with detail, and the lighting makes the most of the atmosphere. The music is suitably exciting. The script, by Jason Fuller, director Anne Black, and producer Kynan Griffin, pulls together a rich fantasy world. And the CGI is particularly good for an indie fantasy.
But what I really like is the attention to characters, particularly the female ones. The protagonist is Marek, a slave girl in this faux medieval world. She has a club foot, a defiant attitude, and is learning magic on the sly from wizard Kevin Sorbo. When she finally has enough of her brutal owner she runs away, determined to seek a life of adventure using her magical skills. Marek is played by Melanie Stone, and she’s flat-out terrific; she provides the emotional center the film needs.
Marek visits a tavern where mercenaries gather to hire out on bounties for various mythical creatures (one man brings in what looks like a gorgon’s head), but the only one willing to take a chance on a novice is Teela, a priestess seeking the orcs (it’s always orcs) who kidnapped her sister.
Teela is played by Nicola Posener, who was so good in Dawn of the Dragonslayer, and is just as good here. In fact, the central relationship in the film is the one between Marek and Teela, and it not only passes the well-known Bechdel test, it completely shatters it as a convention. Marek and Teela behave like reasonable adults in a crisis, not like female characters written to be ogled by men.
Not that there aren’t any men. Marek recruits a drunken soldier (Adam Johnson) and a smooth-talking thief (Jake Stormoen) to join them on their quest. They each have their moments; the thief Dagen is the flashier role, but I really like the way sullen warrior Thane kept getting mortally hurt and needing Teela’s magical skills to heal him. He’s secure enough that he doesn’t resent her; he accepts her help graciously.
The action is handled with skill by director Black, who once again understands the importance of the quiet scenes between characters. There’s one exchange between Marek and Teela, where the runaway slave asks Teela to heal her club foot, that is really the emotional heart of the film, and the two actors bring it to life with grace and poignancy.
As many of you know, I worked with Tara Cardinal on a novel, Sword Sisters, that focused on the friendship between two young women in a fantasy setting. Tara had already pulled off the Herculean task of writing, directing, producing and starring in a female-led fantasy film, Legend of the Red Reaper. Mythica, co-written and directed by a woman, featuring two wonderfully vivid female characters, is working the same side of the street. Hopefully it’s a sign that indie films will fill the niche left by mainstream studios too timid to put women both in front of and behind the camera for fantasy and action films.
Mythica: A Quest for Heroes will be released on DVD in 2015. Keep an eye on the Arrowstorm website for more info. And here’s the trailer.[media url=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bg_t3y3zoMQ”]