King of Thorn Review

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King of Thorn is a hugely ambitious film with some great ideas and a huge twist I didn’t see coming, but it’s ruined by being much too long for its own good. It drags out its nearly two hour running time with details that ultimately feel unimportant to the end story, like filler arcs in a series. During the middle of the film, as it felt like it was going nowhere, for a while I just wanted it to be over. The writing is fantastic and the premise is pulled off fantastically for the most part, but the film could really have benefited hugely from being about half an hour shorter.

The story starts off in the midst of a world ending natural disaster. We see news reports of a virus spreading rampant across the globe, turning those affected into stone and spreading at a terrifying speed across the world, affecting the whole infrastructure of life on Earth. A mysterious company offers to cryogenically freeze 160 people, leaving them to be awoken once a cure for the disease is found. When the frozen group awake they find themselves in a facility completely overrun by monsters and sentient vines bent on destruction of the survivors. Very soon only a small group remain, fighting trying to try and escape alive while discovering the mysteries of the facility and how the world could have changed so much in the two short days they were frozen.

The concept itself sets up a really interesting mystery, with the first section of the film keeping a really strong pace while helping us find answers. For the most part the opening third feels like a survival horror film and does a great job of setting up the characters and making us fear for their safety, while still managing to do some strong character development.

The problem is that this is followed by a mid-section where we get lots of ultimately dead end or redundant answers to questions, mysteries that never get resolutions and things that feel like they’re just not going anywhere. This section of the film offers literally nothing in terms of real character development, no meaningful plot advancement and just seems tacked on where it would have been better skipped. It drags on and at times made me want to switch the film off.

The story’s focus is on a young girl called Kasumi, tortured by guilt that she was selected to be frozen but not her sister. This is where the third act of the film is focused and where we get by far the most interesting moments. There’s some hugely well written and fantastically performed scenes in the final act, as well as an amazing twist and some resolution to many of the questions the first act raised. The last twenty minutes or so really did redeem the film and left me feeling positive about the plot and the concept’s worth. I just wish there were a director’s cut that quickly skimmed the second act, which would make it easier to recommend. The subplots just don’t make much sense or go anywhere.

While the anime looks lovely, it’s occasionally punctuated with weirdly unfitting CGI character models. Sure these 3D models are done in a way that mimics anime, much like games such as Ni No Kuni, but when the background or other elements of the scene are still painted images it somewhat distracts from the fact that on the whole the film looks really good. The anime style scenes are crisp, fights are well choreographed and action sequences move at a super fast pace. It’s just a shame how unfitting the CGI can be.

The film uses a narrated framework of a mother telling her child the story of Sleeping Beauty. While this at times fits very well to the story at hand, there are clearly areas where they’ve had to twist the classic fairy tale (or at least the version I was told) to better fit their narrative framework. At times this narration can also be a little heavy handed, but it’s usually fitting and does help to set the narrative tone, juxtaposing nicely against the dark tone of many of the scenes.

The characters are also, for the most part, relatable and likeable, with personalities you want to root for. This isn’t true during the disappointing second act, where characters seem to be different people for a while, but the beginning and ending do a wonderful job of enforcing some fantastic performances.

Put simply, King of Thorn is a film that had huge potential, but just didn’t keep itself succinct enough to really work. What could have been a very highly rated film is instead turned into something that’s merely worth a watch, but you’ll need to grit your teeth and get through a lot of waffle and nonsense in the middle.

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