SXSW 2021: ‘The Spine of Night’ is Bloody Fantastical

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The spine of night

Adult animation as a medium has been thriving recently, and not just the comedic romps from Matt Groeing and Seth McFarlane. I’m talking about action-filled, narrative drive, and bloody series that are gaining ground thanks to platforms like Netflix. That said, adult animated features in the United States are still few and very far between. So, when I saw The Spine of Night on the list for the virtual 2021 SXSW Film Festival, I knew I needed to check it out.

The Spine of Night is written and directed by Philip Gelatt and Morgan Galen King, and features a stellar cast of voices from the flawless Lucy Lawless to M.O.D.O.K himself Patton Oswalt as well as Richard E. Grant, Joe Manganiello, and Larry Fessenden. If you’re unfamiliar with the film, it’s ultra-violent, epic, and fueled by ancient dark magic and heavy metal.

In it, dark magic falls into sinister hands and unleashes ages of suffering onto mankind. A group of heroes from different eras and cultures must band together in order to defeat it at all costs. Now, it’s hard to talk about The Spine of Night is hard. A tight film at just over an hour and a half of runtime, it wastes no time building out its magical world.

With Lawless’ Tzod taking center stage for the first half of the movie. A priestess of sorts, she’s powerful, spiritual, and the voice work is the best of the film. When the focus transitions away from her, we see that the real drive of the film is the way you can pull together while also keeping a magic and metal front and center.

While the story is great, The Spine of Night excels in its animation even more-so. First, the animation style is unlike much I’ve seen. Specifically, the animators’ attention to detail in the film’s violence is extremely well-executed. While there is a lot of blood, including a man who survives and talks with a burned off face (not a burn on his face, but it’s literally gone, exposed muscle and blood gone), The Spine of Night doesn’t lose any of its artistry. In fact, the violence in the film is a statement itself. Additionally, Tzod’s character is able to avoid the sexualization that usually happens in animating women’s breasts in animation. She is intimidating and strong even with only a loincloth.

But beyond that, the animation excels when it ventures into the truly weird and grotesque. With some sections of the animation feeling like a fever dream equipped with a giant eye where a torso should be, The Spine of Night embraces every element that can make you squirm and then turns it up to an 11 equipped with vibrant colors to make every scene sing.

That said, I wish the vibrancy had been brought to the brown skin of the characters shown on screen. I’ve praised adult animation in the past for the ability to show brown skin as warm, and sadly, this film loses that, with most of the brown characters feeling more ashen. While not using warm undertones could be chalked up to being a stylistic choice, even the fairest complexion, Tzod’s, features a warm, pink undertone.

Additionally, the film has slight inconsistencies in the way, and when, magic is used throughout the story. This develops into small issues in pacing but to be honest, the strength of the vocal performances and the animation style more than makes up for it.

Overall, The Spine of Night gets dark fantasy, and not just from an animation standpoint. The world created in the film is one I desperately want to see more of.

The Spine of Night was screened at the virtual 2021 SXSW Film Festival.

The Spine of Night
  • 7.5/10
    Rating - 7.5/10


Overall, The Spine of Night gets dark fantasy, and not just from an animation standpoint. The world created in the film is one I desperately want to see more of.

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