Directed by Josiah Swanson
Starring Tim Kaiser, Tiffany Burns, Jared Withrow, Eric Moyer, Noah Robbie, Greg J. Wolfe, Mike T. Tremblay, Alethea Varner
Indie Film Review by Jack Gibbs
Sometimes a movie comes along and swiftly proves itself entertaining for all the wrong reasons. These films can emerge from anywhere, from well-financed Hollywood creations sporting magnetic names to independent productions made free from the restraints of studio executives. In this case, it comes from White Shore Films, who look to use this feature as the starting point of a monumentally grandiose fantasy realm, and who have evidently forgotten to scale back their dreams somewhat.
A ‘modern’ fantasy vaguely evoking films such as Highlander and Beastmaster, featuring a central hero ripped from his time and finding himself a part of a world he scarcely understands, The Taker’s Crown focuses on the exploits of Wiglaf, as he and his companions waddle across urban and rural America – or rather, the world of ‘Everwyn’ - in a quest for the eponymous piece of headwear in a terribly amusing romp rife with stilted, wooden or exaggerated performances, ‘fight’ sequences that feature such riveting scenes as one person gently shoving another to the floor with the back of their arm, odd choices of special effects and props that take all the air out of the proceedings.
The intention on the part of its makers is clear, even pure. It is intended to be the first in a series and it just wants to be a good old fantasy flick, a fun little send-up to the classics of the genre while evoking all the tried and true tropes that tend to work. This desire culminates in something so slapdash, however, that it’s hard not to find it humorous – even if that was not at all intentional. This manages to seep into almost every aspect of the film’s story and overall production, exemplifying ‘swing and a miss’.
Characters share moments that fall flat, undone by hammy or bland acting, lifeless dialogue or tonally inappropriate music – or even the roar of passing cars, with audio quality varying from scene to scene. Events occur for the sake of the plot without explanation or later reference – a chief example of this being when a random woman walks up to Wiglaf in the middle of the street, spouts motivational drivel at him to get him out of his mid-film emotional slump and is never acknowledged or referred to again. Funnily enough, this is also a scene that completely destroys any semblance of this being set in a fantasy world, as a piece of art blatantly featuring what looks to be an American flag is conspicuous in the background. The choice of locations for a plot as grand and far-reaching as this tries to be is exceedingly peculiar and greatly limits the film’s ambition, even taking budgetary constraints into consideration – playgrounds and random house interiors do not make for sweeping scenery, and at times it even seems that the film’s universe doesn’t really know what it is. It is the most decidedly lifeless fantasy realm I have seen in all my years of knowing the genre, and that is not a good first impression to make.
The plot is utterly unremarkable and the beats predictable as the film hurls itself sloppily through the motions across a running time just shy of 90 minutes, and its pervasive sense of blandness is further undermined by the utterly one-note nature of the majority of the cast. The characters play the old tropes too straight – a lost man searching for his friend who is looking to come to terms with a new world, two antagonists in service to the main villain, one seemingly utterly loyal and one with nagging doubts and a tragic past who, of course, comes from an orphanage, the quirky goofball who is actually deeply ‘intellectual’, all this and more. These traits define them almost completely, and in a genre where the focus so frequently lies on the diverse nature of a travelling band of adventurers, to care so little about what happens to these people is tantamount to giving this film a death sentence. Fragments of Wiglaf’s past seep through every now and then, offering us details of events far more tantalising than those we are made to witness, but they do precious little for characterisation here.
It is a small tragedy, because White Shore Films evidently have their hearts in the right place, but crucial, even basic elements are missing that leave The Taker’s Crown a mess that struggles to piece itself together, hampered by poor, stale writing and directorial and technical ineptitude and hindered by a cast that scarcely seems to care. Tim Kaiser is as earnest as he can be as Wiglaf but is prone to bouts of excessive emotion that lack solid direction, and the performances of everyone else bar Mike Tremblay as Tome and Eric Moyer as Julian scarcely register. There are also a handful of moments that are genuinely intended to be comedic that actually serve their purpose alarmingly well, chiefly due to their absurdity. But this isn’t a fantasy flick that is meant to be watched for its humour – this is a fantasy flick that aims to stand out as something epic and noteworthy, the first chapter in a gripping saga and the springboard for an entire universe, and in that regard it fails entirely.
If you want something that can evoke the old glory days of Mystery Science Theatre 3000, this is a prime contender. If, however, you want something that encapsulates the spirit of fantasy, there are far better options on offer, past and present. Only time will tell if White Shore Films will do more with the world they’ve created, but for now, this film is a defining example of everything negative about unchecked ambition.