Lord of Misrule Review

Lord of Misrule Review

Lord of Misrule Review - IGN Image

Katie Rife

Posted:

Dec 6, 2023 9:50 pm

Ralph Ineson has a face for a folk horror movie. One of the prolific British character actor’s biggest roles was as the fanatical patriarch in The Witch, and he’s appeared in multiple medieval fantasies like The Green Knight and Game of Thrones. So once his long features and deep booming voice appear in Lord of Misrule, it’s clear what’s about to happen. Here comes the repressed, roaring back again.

Lord of Misrule has the disadvantage of appearing relatively late in the most recent folk-horror cycle, which began about a decade ago. (Folk horror is especially popular in the U.K., where this film’s writer, but not its director, are from.) That makes it difficult not to think of Midsommar when viewing this film’s version of a mural that tells the story of a pagan sacrifice, or of Ineson’s performance in Robert Eggers’ “New England folktale” as he monologues about the spirits of the land. But that’s not all of what writer Tom de Ville and director William Brent Bell – who previously worked with Ineson in Brahms: The Boy II – have going on here.

Lord of Misrule Gallery

A few additional elements should give Lord of Misrule a boost. First is the inclusion of an unambiguously Christian protagonist, whose faith draws in elements of the possession subgenre with all of its crosses and grumbly-voiced demons. Then there’s the element of British murder mystery – specifically, in the Broadchurch “sinister secrets beneath an idyllic surface” mold. And yet blending all this with a Wicker Man plot about a small town sacrificing outsiders to appease an ancient god yields a result that is less than the sum of its parts.

Tuppence Middleton stars as Rebecca Holland, the recently installed vicar of a picturesque English village. As the story begins, Rebecca is watching suspiciously over a local harvest festival that peaks with a man in a mask, dubbed the “Lord of Misrule,” chasing away a demon and ruling over a rowdy night of dancing and drinking around ritual bonfires. Rebecca doesn’t approve, exactly – she plays for the other team, after all. But she accepts the pagan revelry as part of the culture of her new home. Then, at some point during the festivities, Rebecca’s young daughter Grace (Evie Templeton) disappears.

That kicks off the murder-mystery portion of the proceedings, which eventually fades as Ineson’s character – a villager who teaches children about local customs at what’s euphemistically called “Nature Club” – steps to the forefront. Here, devils from before and after Christianity conquered the British Isles bewitch Rebecca’s attempt to locate her daughter. Eventually, they lead her to a goatlike figure named Galagog, and the “Black Barn” where he waits for this daughter of God to come and confront him.

Lord of Misrule acquires some interesting texture by mixing in folk magic traditions, both real and imagined, into its soupy slurry of pseudo-pagan hogwash. That being said, there’s no distinctive point of view on these rituals, which add up to little more than cool images as a result. A few seconds’ worth of inspired horror filmmaking would have been more effective than the last half-hour of this film, which explains entirely too much with too little artistic flair.

A few seconds’ of inspired horror filmmaking would have been more effective than the last half-hour of Lord of Misrule.

Lord of Misrule was shot by journeyman cinematographer Simon Rowling, who gives it the burnished look and desaturated gray color palette of a TV drama. That’s typical of the craft in this film more generally, which does what it can with a limited budget in a manner that’s professional, but not especially inventive. There are some fascinating ideas in here, and some striking moments when the filmmakers shoot a cluster of bonfires or the shadow of a craggy tree. But more, in this case, isn’t necessarily better.

Verdict

Lord of Misrule blends the folk horror, possession, and murder-mystery genres in a way that lessens the impact of all three. While the film’s invented version of British folklore gives it some interesting texture and imagery, it lacks a strong point of view.

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Lord of Misrule

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While Lord of Misrule has its moments, blending folk horror, possession, and murder mystery isn’t enough to make this saggy film pop.

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Katie Rife

Official IGN Review

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