Directed by Wyndham Price
The fall of an aristocrat, the death of a spouse and the quest to save family are all timeless themes, as recurrent in old myths as they are modern soaps. Yet, since the early philosophers, few topics have shown themselves to be quite as timeless as tensions between the natural world and the city. Welsh director Wyndham Price’s feature Crow is the latest chapter in this ongoing saga and combines urban expansion with traditional folklore.
Tearing down the ancient trees is capitalist tycoon Tucker (Moran): a greedy property developer whose sense of entitlement is matched only by his disregard for Mother Nature. He has the none-too-modest aim of chopping down a large section of the woods to erect a gigantic mansion ala the palace of Versailles. First he needs to rid his temporary home, a picturesque farmstead, of its squatters. Sounds easy enough, for a man that knows thugs. But these aren’t any old squatters. Lead by Harley (Howard), they are a band of outcasts who have sworn to protect their sacred forest with their lives.
And sacred it is. From the earth spirits fly, men rise and branches creep or grow thorns. All of these effects and more are wonderfully well done) save for some of the computer enhanced violence towards the end). However, the group’s mythology and rituals are perhaps the movie’s most intriguing elements. Wearing an interesting pairing of biker gear and tunics, their eerie iconography and legends hint at a rich lore and backing story. Some of these ideas, such as the apparition of holy figure Great Crow (Stamp) would have seemed like twee tripe, in the hands of a lesser director. But here it’s pitched just right, adding to the mystique. As far as horrors go, this one is as atmospheric as they come. The trees look magnificent, creepy and calming in equal measures, plus the soundtrack is simply spellbinding. Such strong presentations helps us relate to Young Crow’s bond with the wilderness, giving the escalating conflict some emotional stakes. You just wish he’d shut up about it though!
If there is a recurrent problem with Crow it’s the over-reliance on voiceovers which add very little to the scenes and often detract from them. Perhaps a hangover from its theatrical source material, Young Crow seems to talk endlessly in vague terms. It’s frustrating, as sometimes the speeches can be very effective – like when the eloquent opening monologue combines with the slow strings to establish mood. Other times his laments to the environment and its spirits can be sad or even beautiful. Though by the end of act one they, along with numerous shots of him screaming, become repetitive telling rather than showing. Tucker’s boorishness is similarly laboured, with him laughing at the idea of killing a rabbit, repeatedly yelling at all his staff and not caring when a worker gets his finger cut off. Consequently, the film builds to a conflict where audiences are obviously meant to like one side more than the other, but probably won’t.
As a further storytelling gripe – try as I may, I cannot understand why the director chose to go with a non-linear narrative for most of the film. Some flashbacks are required, like what happened to Young Crow’s dad, and that’s fine. But time-jumps in the main plot add very little and actually sometimes spoil Crow by making a relatively simple human story seem disjointed. For example, the revelation of why Harley is the present timeline is bloodied and beaten is too obvious to be treated like a second act twist. Rather it feels more like a natural escalation of the threat in act one. Nonetheless, the film is more than the sum of its parts. On the whole, Crow warrants a watch. It’s a captivating, sometimes excellent, film and isn’t quite like any other. And, by the end, though it becomes a fairly typical city man vs earthy man scenario, it does so without losing its own sense of identity. For a film that tells a story hundreds of years old, that’s no mean feat.