This film is more like Dungeons and Dragons: The Movie, than Dungeons and Dragons: The Movie. Which is quite a relief, as that movie was terrible. I'm not meaning that as criticism, quite the reverse. The strange thing about this genre of film is that for all those claiming that 'we've seen it all before', we hardly ever actually see it! Essentially, this is a good and entertaining adventure, and that's always worth an hour and a half of anyone's time. (I certainly hope so. That's essentially the template for everything I've written!) We've got the usual adventuring party – warrior, thief, wizard, priest, and that could so easily go wrong, but fortunately the writer remembered that she was writing characters, not stereotypes, and that gives the actors something to work with – which they do very well.
I'm not going to pretend this is perfect, not by any means. This was the first in what was at the time a four-movie arc, later extended to five, and that leads to perhaps the only flaw in the story, but I'll get to that later. The benefit of such an ambitious project – and let's face it, it is ambitious. That's two more movies than the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and four more movies than the Hobbit should have been, and to set out to try such an epic as an independent film company is a brave choice. That they've actually pulled it off is astounding. (Technically, the fifth movie is in post-production, but more on that at the end of this review. Suffice to say that while not all of them are out yet, we're going to see them.)
To get the technical part out of the way first. The cinematography is excellent, if at times a little on the dark side, but they make good use of the terrain. Actually, I thought it stepped up a notch at about the twenty-minute mark when they left the town and began the adventure itself, but I chalk that up to the hazards of a low-budget production. (I have, I should note, seen a lot worse in films with ten, twenty times the budget.) Sound quality is good all the way through, and the score is good as well. Maybe not quite as good as Dawn of the Dragonslayer, but that was a pretty high bar.
Special effects are always going to be difficult with a low budget. To the film's credit, they did the very smart thing, and solved most of their problems at the script stage. (So many, many film-makers get that wrong. If you've got a six-figure budget, don't plan on doing the Battle of Five Armies. It'll look terrible, and drag your audience out of the story.) What they do use is fine – not great, but it's never going to be. It's kept to a minimum, which is the smart, smart thing, and means that it works when they do use it.
Any film, whether you're filming with six-figures or nine-figures in the budget, lives or dies on two things. Script and cast. People forget that – and it's why so many of the big blockbusters become tedious by-the-numbers flops. It's also why, sometimes, lower-budget movies beat out their rivals. This is most of the way there, and I'll talk about the story in a minute. The cast do a fine job with their material – and good material always helps. Not once did I break focus on the story, and that's the critical thing.
I'm going to break the story down into two areas. One in which it succeeded, and one in which it mostly succeeded. Treating the film as a film – in short, letting pass the elements for future instalments – it holds together fine. It's a traditional coming-of-age story, with a disabled (excellent) heroine (also excellent) as the lead and focus. (Anyone else think of any genre films where a disabled woman is the leading character? Many, many points here.) It runs from event to event with the characters carrying the story, rather than letting the story carry them, always a big plus.
When it comes to the story itself, it's a fairly traditional coming-of-age story in many ways, though bonus points for the protagonists, and not falling prey to the easy adoption of tropes. Even where they do fall into the usual patterns – the dashing rogue, for example – you get the idea that there is more going on under the surface, that this is an act concealing something else. The main focus is on the lead, Marek, and that's where the bulk of the foreshadowing falls; she's going somewhere very dark, that much is clear. About the only niggle I have is that the scene near the end of the film with them walking off camera, having defeated the big bad, would have been a great ending, to the point that the next scene almost seems unneeded, but that's a very small niggle in a good film. I don't do scores – if I don't like it, I don't review it – but I can recommend picking this one up. It's available on Amazon. More to the point – the production team have a Kickstarter for the final film in the series going right now, and I strongly urge you to donate. It's certainly worth it.