THE SPINE OF THE NIGHT movie poster | ©2021 RLJE Films

THE SPINE OF THE NIGHT movie poster | ©2021 RLJE Films

Rating: Not Rated
Stars (voices): Richard E. Grant, Lucy Lawless, Patton Oswalt, Betty Gabriel, Malcolm Mills, Jordan Douglas Smith, Tom Lipinski, Nina Lisandrello, Abby Savage, Patrick Breen, Larry Fessenden, Maggie Lakis, Rob McClure, Joe Manganello
Writers: Philip Gelatt & Morgan Galen King
Directors: Philip Gelatt & Morgan Galen King
Distributor: RLJE Films
Release Date: October 29, 2021; Shudder, March 24, 2022

THE SPINE OF NIGHT is one of those movies that starts slow, but somehow increases in power as it goes. It’s an ambitious animated myth that presents a series of thematically-tied stories, including a creation legend.

We see a beautiful starry universe. Then we’re with a naked woman who’s walking through a snowstorm on a mountain range that has a graveyard. This is definitely enough to invite curiosity.

We learn that the woman, whose name is Tzod (voiced by Lucy Lawless), has come here in search of an extremely rare bloom. The bloom’s Guardian (voiced by Richard E. Grant) has been on task for centuries. He wants Tzod to leave, until she shows him that she has a bloom that is like his.

So, how did Tzod get the bloom, what does it do, and why has she come naked up a mountain to get it? Unlike a lot of movies that set up a bunch of questions at the start and then either fail to answer them or don’t track, THE SPINE OF NIGHT has in fact a strong story spine. Events and details that at first seem unrelated all come together by the end.

Written and directed by Philip Gelatt & Morgan Galen King, THE SPINE OF NIGHT is rotoscoped, which means that actors have been filmed and/or taped performing the action, and then painted over in animation.

What gives THE SPINE OF NIGHT a peculiar look is that the backgrounds are stunning but static, while the body movements are realistic, but the character animation is fairly simplistic and uninflected. It’s a strange combination, and the movie would be better served by more detailed character visuals, but we get more used to it than we might suppose at the start.

While it is not rated, THE SPINE OF NIGHT is extremely violent and gory, which works better with some actions than with others (big stuff is appropriately readable and disturbing; cuts to the body just look strange).

In broad strokes, the characters have interesting looks. Tzod, for instance, in much fleshier than standard female animation characters, and one antagonist (voiced by Joe Manganiello), appears to be modeled after Sean Connery in ZARDOZ.

Grant sounds suitably sepulchral and melancholy as the long-lived Guardian, and Lawless adopts an exotic-to-anywhere accent as the determined Tzod. Malcolm Mills and Jordan Douglas Smith bring so much evil to their bad guys that we wind up invested in seeing them toppled.

The title of THE SPINE OF NIGHT comes from a poetic observation made by a character. It doesn’t refer specifically to any major element of the film. THE SPINE OF NIGHT has narrative vertebrae that initially don’t seem to fit together, but in the end create something that produces the sensation of having read a grim but expansive storybook.

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