Since the advent of Game of Thrones, there has been a return to the Grimdark setting. Grimdark is usually a low-fantasy world, fictional or historical, where magic exists but is limited and subtle; life is brutal, the innocent fall victims to dastardly conspiracies and might make right. Similar to Secondary School after dropping acid.
But since Game of Thrones (the only thing holding up Northern Ireland’s tourist industry) has come along fantasies have gotten a lot darker. Or maybe we have gotten darker. Last time there was an upsurge of Grimdark was during the 1980’s, films like Conan the Barbarian (1982), The Company of Wolves (1984) and Return to Oz (1985) all came out during a period of Cold War tension. Adding to the mix is The Last Warrior (2018), also known as The Scythian.
After their fall the Scythian tribes of the Eastern European Plain have become mercenaries and assassins to the new regional powers. In the Principality of Tmutarakan, Lyutobor (Aleksey Faddeev) is a noble lord and right-hand man of Prince Oleg Svyatoslavovich (Yuriy Tsurilo) and celebrates the birth of his son with his beautiful wife Tatyana (Izmaylova Vasilisa); oblivious to the large neon countdown overhead. Sure enough, a band of Scythian mercenaries, the Wolves, kidnap Tatyana and their son and make their ransom demands. Kill Prince Oleg for the return of your family. With Oleg’s sudden poisoning Lyutobor must take a Scythian captive Kunitsa, Marten in the English dub, (Aleksandr Kuznetsov) as a guide to rescue his family and clear his name. Stalked by former friends and new foes across the wilderness, Lyutobor discovers a twisted maze of plots within plots and must tap into powers hidden within himself to survive.
The Last Warrior is reminiscent of The Eagle (2011) by way of Night Watch (2004) in terms of stylization. Filmed with a High Dynamic Range, it brings across the heighten vitality of scenes. There is a sense that this is a living, breathing world. Rather than the many shows and films that tend to portray the past in drab browns and off toned blacks, Warrior brings rich colours across the screen. Be it in the costumes, the landscape or the gore. CGI is limited; what’s there is used only to heighten and enhance what is already been filmed with many scenes using practical effects when possible.
Like many Russian films, the camera work is impressive. It flows with the action, gently moving across the screen for giant sweeping vistas or following the action in close tight shots that move with the swordplay. During the action scenes, there is a limited amount of edit cuts, both camera and swordfights are choreographed down to the letter. Rather than being played out with jump cuts and shaky camera or in open long shots, you get a feel for the movement and the sense of the brutality, that you’re almost part of the action.
So that’s it for the action and the filming. What about the plot and characters? Well, there is a plot, save family find the real killer. There is also a lot of filler to it. A sequence of set pieces tied together by the plot more than anything else. One of which, and I swear this is true, is the inclusion of the Thunderdrome in 10th Century Eastern Europe, right down to having its own Master Blaster and rope based combat.
Lyutobor and Kunistsa/Marten’s relationship doesn’t go under any great strain, no divided loyalties or ambiguity. Mistrustfulness at the start, cooperation born out of necessity that gives way to admiration. It’s fairly standard and doesn’t explore the characters drives. Lyutobor’s untapped powers are more there for convenience sake than any character development, there to get him out of tight spots rather than from growth.
In the end, though, it is an enjoyable movie. Not great but certainly fun, like The 13th Warrior (1999). With the gore turned up to 11, it is a cruel world inhabited by people made ruthless to survive it. Just like Secondary School.
Dir: Rustam Mosafir
Scr: Vadim Golovanov, Rustam Mosafir
Cast: Aleksey Faddeev, Aleksandr Kuznetsov, Izmaylova Vasilisa, Yuriy Tsurilo
Prd: Sergey Selyanov
DOP: Dzmitry Karnachyk
Runtime: 101 minutes
The Last Warrior is available on DVD now.