The horror genre is such a sprawling beast that we sometimes come across movies that feel like they barely fit the category. Films like Constantine and The Nightmare Before Christmas come to mind. They’re not the type of films that we often talk about since they’re not designed to truly scare. This is where Forbidden Empire sits in the realm of horror.
Oleg Stepchenko’s third run as a director takes us to a surreal version of Eastern Europe. Forbidden Empire actually is the continuation of Nikolai Gogol’s short story Viy, which was also portrayed on film in 1967. Our protagonist this time around is Jonathan Green (played by Jason Flemyng), who has fallen in love with a girl who is above his station. As these things tend to go, her father disapproves of the relationship. Unfortunately for Jonathan, but lucky for us, Charles Dance of Game of Thrones fame plays the father, Lord Dadli. If there was ever a master of the disapproving father role, Charles Dance is that man. Undaunted, Jonathan sets out to become the greatest cartographer of all time.
The first thing that came to mind after Jonathan sets out is the film’s aesthetic. I have since dubbed Stepchencko the Russian Tim Burton. If you’re a fan of Sleepy Hollow, chances are you will enjoy this film as well. Burton’s influence is everywhere, from the kooky out of place inventions, to the overall design palette. Very early on we are treated to a horse speedometer. That’s right. A speedometer for the horse-drawn carriage. The aesthetic also serves another purpose and that is to help mask the poor quality CGI. However, when you take into account that Forbidden Empire was working on a 26 million dollar budget as compared to Sleepy Hollow‘s budget of 70 million, you realize they did an outstanding job.
Let’s discuss the creature designs for a moment. Despite the CGI being subpar for 2015, the designs themselves are incredible. I think it’s fair to say we are on a Guillermo del Toro level of strange with the creatures of Forbidden Empire. Now I don’t know enough about Ukrainian or Russian folklore to say if the creatures are based off of old stories, or if the design team is just very creative, but either way they were a highlight.
The viewing wasn’t without its downsides. One of the biggest complaints I have is that the version we received was an English dub. I know some of you loathe reading subtitles, but that’s a much truer experience in my book. With a dub, we lose half of the actors’ performances. All of the nuances of speech and inflections of their voice are suddenly replaced with someone poorly trying to replicate that in a different language. Furthermore, we end up with the “Godzilla effect” of mouths moving completely out of sync with the audio. May not be a big thing for you, but I hope a subtitled option is available.
Overall my experience with Forbidden Empire was a positive one. It’s not doing anything so revolutionary that I’d call it a must see, but that’s not to say it’s without merit. This is the kind of movie that you can put on and the whole family can enjoy, and you probably won’t see that said on this website very often. After watching it, I immediately described it as “Scooby Doo-ish” and I’m still not sure if that’s a good or bad thing. I do believe that if you’re in the right mood, or you just want to watch something fun, Forbidden Empire could be the film for you.
Forbidden Empire [Review]
Family friendly adventure that offers unique creature designs and a Scooby-Doo style mystery.