Written and directed by Nicholas Kleban, college student Sonja summons the demonic sorcerer Var after viewing a 500-year-old film containing his spirit. Starring: Alison Niven, Lisa Crawford, Brittany Clough, Cynthia Stone, Vida Zukauskas, Madison Graves, Lars Classington and Mark Brombacher.
What Kleban has created here feels like a combination of homages to the 70s obsession with satanic cults and 80s schlocky horror. Its use of gore and overt themes feel like nods to films such as Evil Dead and Wishmaster, but in doing so it creates for itself a very specific audience, for fans of the more obvious and outlandish. It gets in your face and makes itself very clear what type of film that it is almost immediately and it continues in much a similar fashion throughout.
The film can come across awkwardly at times, its directorial style could use a little smoothing out, there are moments where adjustments to the zoom are made mid-scene and it’s almost a found footage quality which doesn’t quite gel with the rest of the film. There are a fair deal of effects used which touch upon issues of being unconvincing as well as sepia tone type filters that feel unnecessary; it’s trying to throw a lot at you, testing out different styles and it could have reined itself in more, and picked one clear, consistent style. Its erratic use of nudity also feels very out of place and unflattering, it doesn’t really have anything to add and it’s uncomfortable to watch. It’s something that the film struggles with throughout, there are choices where you can see its intentions to fulfil its supernatural, horror origins but it can’t quite hit them confidently enough to fit the pieces together.
Its writing is problematic, the story is led by a woman but its attitude towards women feels very much in line with that of its influences 40 years ago, which is an element you don’t want to bring. It has that edge of any abuse or violence towards women being sexually motivated and it’s a distasteful tone that colours its attempts at humour also. Similarly, the lead character has no self-awareness, she easily accepts drugs from a man she met minutes before, she immediately shows him where she lives, then the next day invites him over; there are simply so many red flags that it’s an example of what not to do as a single woman. It also makes an attempt to create a much more complicated resolution to its story in its final moments but feels like it waited too late and should have simply focused on what it had already built, rather than trying to take it many steps further so late in the game.
However, one of the most clear struggles that the film has is its acting, unfortunately its lead Sonja (Zukauskas) comes across wooden, she stumbles with the dialogue and doesn’t quite manage to hit convincing notes which is a key factor when the film is so strongly focused on her. It’s a similar case with the rest of the cast, they needed to tone it down slightly, they feed into that outlandish tone but it could have benefited from letting that arise from its story rather than their acting. It’s a fine line to walk between the overt nature of its story and going over the top, and it unfortunately crosses that line a few too many times.
The Kingdom of Var is a hectic mix of the supernatural and a heavy dose of gore, with added cannibalism, and it can’t quite settle on one style or focus. There’s a touch of the distasteful and uncomfortable to this film that will work for some people but not everyone. It can be clumsy at times and it’s a case of trying to fit too much into one film, it feels as though it needed to take a step back to re-evaluate what it wanted to achieve before diving in headfirst.