Cinema Review: Forbidden Empire | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Saturday, September 26th, 2020  

Forbidden Empire

Studio: eOne
Directed by Oleg Stepchenko

Jun 01, 2015 Web Exclusive
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Jonathan Green (Jason Flemyng) is an enlightenment era scientist and explorer out for adventure, when he stumbles upon a Ukrainian village plagued by witches and demons. He details his adventures in a series of letters to his love back in England, Miss Dudley (Anna Churina), while her stern father (Charles Dance, Game of Thrones) disapproves. Inspired by the tale of a demonic entity known as Viy by Russian novelist Nikolai Gogol, director Oleg Stepchenko has created a horror film more akin to the Universal monster movies like Dracula and Frankenstein, but with a whimsical period twist.

On paper, Forbidden Empire just seems so promising, especially to audiences longing for the dark fantasy of ‘80s films like Willow, Legend, or anything Terry Gilliam has actually managed to finish. Surely, Forbidden Empire hits some spectacular notes visually, but the overall structure just crumbles. Barely clocking in under two hours, it still felt overly long and tedious at times. The film suffers from jarring editing and a rushed pace, drowning out any sense of tension or drama with admittedly great imagery, but feels completely void of context.

Like a Gilliam film, it is an impressively ambitious production. Apparently stuck in years of development hell, it was completely scrapped at one point to be re-shot for 3D, at least according to a Wikipedia entry suspiciously written like a press release. Undoubtedly, some of the magic is lost in the 2D on-demand release, but the film’s flow is additionally disrupted by an unfortunate English dub that is more distracting than useful. The exception is all of Charles Dance’s scenes, which seemingly exist in another film altogether. In a narrative sense, Green’s story as a cartographer and explorer quickly take a backseat to the whole witch thing, making the story feel more like a bait and switch than an engaging adventure. Still, there are some thrilling sequences, and the monsters are great, especially for low-budget CGI. But despite all it has going for it, Forbidden Empire is too much of a mess to even stand out as a cult classic. 

Author rating: 5.5/10

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Average reader rating: 5/10


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