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Review: Knights of Badassdom (2014)

Knights of Badassdom (2014)

Directed by: Joe Lynch

Premise: A group of friends attend a live action role playing game in which teams of people dress up as knights, fairies, and wizards and act out the scenarios of fantasy fiction. One of the wizards unwittingly unleashes a demon that wreaks havoc on the gamers. 

What Works: The phenomenon of Live Action Role Play (also known as LARPing) has been the inspiration for a few films such as the documentary Monster Camp, the mainstream comedy Role Models, and the low budget feature Lloyd the Conqueror. Most of these movies are about fans and their obsessions, usually focusing on how people who feel marginalized in their daily lives turn to fantasy stories to escape the grind of the everyday and experience a sense of power and worth. Knights of Badassdom is interesting in part because uses the same premise but applies a slightly new approach to this niche of films. A group of LARPers converge on a campground to play out a massive game but imagination and reality collide when one of the sorcerers uses a spell book he assumes is fake but is actually real and summons a demon that attacks the costumed players. That is as ridiculous as it sounds and Knight of Badassdom is an uneven movie with the tone veering between absurd humor and bloody violence but that jaggedness works for the movie. Like the strange brew of violence and comedy that defines Edgar Wright’s movies, Knight of Badassdom is able to make the violence and the comedy work in concert instead of against each other. The film has a zany energy and is frequently very funny, even if that humor is only going to appeal to a narrow audience. The movie also sets up characters who are somewhat sympathetic and who go out on a limb to save each other. This is an area where the low tech thrills of Knights of Badassdom have an edge on many of Hollywood’s mega-produced fantasy epics. The characters of this film remain front and center and their efforts retain a degree of heroism that is often lost in movies with a much broader scope. 

What Doesn’t: Knights of Badassdom is a low budget picture and the imaginations of the filmmakers outpace the means of the production. The special effects are very uneven. When the filmmakers visualize the supernatural forces in an indirect way, such using montage techniques or back lighting, they tend to get away with it. But when the filmmakers stage what are supposed to be straightforward spectacular moments the effects are hokey. This is especially true of the ending in which the demon is transformed into a large reptilian creature; this is done mechanically instead of through computer generated imagery and when it is revealed under full lighting the creature looks like it belongs on a float in a Mardi Gras parade. The digital effects aren’t much better and frequently look like those of a television fantasy series from the 1990s. However, the homemade look of the special effects ends up working for the film. Knights of Badassdom was never going to appeal to a mainstream audience. This was a movie made for viewers who engage in LARP events, read fantasy novels and watch the film adaptations, or at least have an appreciation for geek culture. For that audience, Knights of Badassdom ought to play. Like the low budget horror pictures of the 1970s and 80s, especially the original Evil Dead which clearly had a significant influence of this picture, there is something appealing about the schlocky nature of this movie and its special effects. Compared to the visuals of a $100 million Hollywood production, which are frequently stunning but also sterile and lifeless, the low budget effects of Knights of Badassdom have a charm to them. That charm is only going to work on a particular kind of audience and viewers who aren’t in that audience just aren’t going to get it.

DVD extras: Interviews, featurettes, and a trailer.

Bottom Line: Knights of Badassdom is not a movie for everyone but it is the kind of picture that could become a cult hit. It has that niche appeal and will speak to a particular audience that will love it in spite of—but also because of—its shortcomings.

Episode: #522 (December 21, 2014)