R | | Action-Adventure/Dark Fantasy | France/Spain/UK 2009 | USA 2012
At first he thought that it was the shadow of a man who stood in the entrance; then he saw that it was a man himself, though so dark and still he stood that a fantastic semblance of shadow was lent him by the guttering candle.
—Robert E. Howard, Red Shadows
§.00 Michael J. Bassett’s dark fantasy adaptation of Robert Howard’s work begins 39 years before the publications of the Bay Psalm Book, and 19 years before the establishment of the Plymouth Colony, with the pirate Solomon Kane (James Purefoy), who, along with his band of bloodthirsty privateers, lays seige to a unnamed Ottoman stronghold. Kane is utterly ruthless in battle. In one scene, he delivers a thrust to a Ottoman soldier’s neck and, sadistically amused, drags the dying man along like a macabre puppet before the his horrified comrades.
When Kane’s band penetrates the stronghold’s defenses and make way to the throne room they are assailed by demons; panic ensues; Kane tells them to hold the line. One of his men defies him and makes for the exit, whereupon he is promptly slain by Kane who declares, “I am the only devil here!”
After this incident Kane enters the throne room but the doors shut behind him. He hears the howling of his men and grimaces, knowing that demons have set upon them. Alone, he turns to the gilded treasure spilt upon the floor of the throne room and is hailed by a demon who introduces itself as the ‘devil’s reaper,’ and declares that it has come to claim Kane’s soul, which is forfeit due to his villainy. The reaper then instructs Kane to submit. Kane, however, refuses to give himself over to the aberration, and escapes.
Sometime later, Kane makes his way to a monastery and turns to a contemplative life of Puritanism and good works. His newfound dedication to being “a man of peace,” however, is tested when a group of travelers with whom he forms a bond is waylaid by demonic brigands under the command of the satanic sorcerer, Malachi (a ominously tattooed Jason Flemyng).
§.01 The central strength of the film is Purefoy’s performance, which is superb throughout. Added to this is the atmosphere, aptly realized through real-location filming, Klas Badelt’s score, which is alternatively (and suitably) rousing and grim, and an able supporting cast (including, Peter William Postlethwaite, Alice Krige, Max Von Sydow and Rachel Hurd-Wood).
§.02 The central weakness in the film is its flimsy penultimate conclusion. The addition of a gigantic metallic fire demon that looked like it walked off the set of Warcraft presented two problems, the first being that it [the demon] has no heft or solidity (unlike the reaper from the beginning of the film); never does the creature appear like it might snatch up the swift-dashing Kane, rather the distinct impression is that if it were to grasp him, it would phase right through the man’s body. Secondarily (and more importantly), the addition of the fire-demon detracts from Kane’s interaction with Malachi, who has just been introduced on-screen, after half a film’s worth of build-up. Malachi, after being introduced, swiftly vanishes (through the use of his magic) and then, when he finally reappears, holding Meredith as a human shield, focus is removed from him once again, and placed upon the lava monster. It is strange to see a character who is not the focal point of their own scene, especially when they are so pivotal to the plot.
§.03 The aforementioned issues are, however, thankfully brief and do little to detract from my generally positive opinion of the film. Its much better than its trailer made it out to be.
In 2010, Solomon Kane was adapted as a novel by British fantasy author, Ramsay Campbell (published by Titan Books).