Swords of Justice
20 Jun 2022
A rough-around-the-edges historical fantasy adventure with slow action and jumbled plot. A self-described ‘fan film,’ the seams are clear to see in a way you wouldn’t expect from a high-budget rendering of sublime historical worlds.
The film opens with some stock drone footage of sweeping hills and an ancient castle shrouded in mist. We then cut to its interior, a palatial home with just enough exposed brick and wooden beams to be convincing as an ancient abode, yet still too clean and sterile. The general lack of set dressing or more thoughtful lighting lends a jarring shift from the more moody exteriors. Two Bayat warriors enter the castle to speak with its ruler, hoping to gain more freedom from the oppressive Georgian regime.
The dialogue is hard to follow, with odd changes in angle, making eyelines appear inconsistent. The lack of clear blocking from the start distracts from the essential narrative exposition being delivered about the incoming Mongol threat. The Bayats have a secret spy within the Mongols, whose location they give up to the Georgians, placing both him, and their hopes of escaping tyrannical rule, in danger. The internal conflict for the Bayats comes from a necessity to defend the Georgians, their oppressors, from the Mongols. Instead, they choose to save the spy from Georgian capture and take a stand for their own freedom.
The core group of 4 Bayat warriors debate this in their camp, showing both their camaraderie and conflict. Their playful fighting is charming, and suggests a longstanding relationship between them all. Their familiarity is contrasted by differing perspectives on whether to challenge the Georgians, including heavy hints towards betrayal by one member. This is indicated by a sharp turn in the score from ambient to sinister. In general the score is overbearing, refusing to ebb and flow with the changing pace and tone of its corresponding images. The editing within their discussion leaves odd gaps in conversation between each person’s coverage, inducing a kind of stop-and-start feeling. But clearly stunted dialogue is not the focus of the film, as action comprises almost all of the film’s second half.
They travel by horse to find and save the spy. Again, some stock inserts are used here, which often only highlight the sharp contrast between the unfiltered natural lighting and the more professionally moody shots. These transitional moments are generally strong though, with great choices of locations and the use of real horses lending some authenticity to their historically corresponding costumes.
Upon finding the spy, a battle breaks out against the Georgians. The combat is slow and awkward, lacking choreography which would lend it some more balletic energy and urgency. Instead, the performers are left to their own devices to improvise a fight between two people who often seem largely unbothered by whether they live or die. The overall structure of this sequence is satisfying however, using a bird’s-eye gameboard system of moving around each piece to find interesting narrative movements. Occasional shots are also much more impressive, with toned down colours and a crisper contrast which draws the action into focus. The slow-motion work is particularly engaging, allowing for more delicate and deliberate movements.