Thursday, October 25, 2018

Kids Euro ’18: The Shamer’s Daughter

Before Game of Thrones, snobby critics used to just lump fantasy in with kids’ books and movies, like it was all cut from the same Lloyd Alexander cloth. That changed when “Grim Dark” became the hottest thing going. As the GRRM clones proliferate, it is rather refreshing to see a fantasy film that does not have any scenes in brothels. There are some “intense action scenes,” as the disclaimers say, but families should mostly feel comfortable in Kenneth Kainz's Danish fantasy feature, The Shamer’s Daughter (trailer here), which screens for free during the Kids Euro Festival in Metro DC.

Dina is the “lucky” sister. She is a shamer, just like her mother, Melussina. That means they have the power to look into men’s eyes and force them to confront their deepest, most shameful secrets. They also seem to have limited powers of suggestion, sort of like Jedi. As a young shamer, Dina does not have full control of her powers yet, which has led to fear and resentment among her peers.

When Nicodemus Ravens, the heir to the principality, stands accused of killing his father his half-brother Drakans summons Melussina to divine the truth. When she does not produce the answer he is looking for, he calls in Dina as a second opinion. She also finds the somewhat neurotic prince not guilty, so Drakans opts to kill them both. Somehow, Nicodemus manages to escape with Dina, but Drakans is hot on their heels. He will be a formidable foe, thanks to the dragon blood he ingests. It gives him accelerated healing powers and renders him nearly invulnerable to the shaming process. Plus, he has the additional advantage of being a sociopath who does not feel shame.

The Macguffin of weaponized guilt that originated in Lene Kaaberbøl’s novels is rather clever. Screenwriter Anders Thomas Jensen maintains a consistent system of magic, but the sequel-setting conclusion almost laughable snatched a to-be-continue ending out of the jaws of closure.

Regardless, it is jolly fun to soak up all the surviving medieval European locations. Plus, there are rather realistic dragons. The effects exceed expectations and the production values are definitely on the high side.

Rebecca Emilie Sattrup is an appealingly scrappy as Dina, holding up quite resiliently throughout the course of the film. Jakob Oftebro certainly looks the part of the heroic prince, but as a character, Ravens is annoyingly petulant and pliable. Yet, he is also bizarrely hard to kill, escaping absolutely, metaphysically certain death several times over through dubious contrivances (none of which is Oftebro’s fault). However, Søren Malling will be the one who wins over genre fans with his hardnosed portrayal of the castle’s weaponsmaster, the film’s Gurney Halleck figure. Seriously, if there is anyone who looks like he was born to a steely fantasy warrior, it would be Malling.

It is encouraging to see sword & sorcery fantasy rendered with first-rate production values, while maintaining a family-friendly vibe. There is plenty of intrigue and rummaging through guilty subconscious minds, but it is still pretty safe for all-ages viewing. Granted, the bad guys knock around the kids a little, but they can take it and hardly feel a thing at that age. Recommended for older kids and fans of old school fantasy movies, like The NeverEnding Story and The Dragonslayer, The Shamer’s Daughter screens this Saturday (10/27), at the AFI Silver Theatre, as part of the Kids Euro Festival.