MyAnna Buring

The Witcher (2019) s01e08 – Much More

Did they intentionally wait until the last episode of the first season to bring in the biggest “Game of Thrones” comparisons? Like, not only is there a “Wall” to defend—sorry, sorry, a “Keep” to defend from the North (wait, wait, is it the South)—but the episode opens with Henry Cavill vs. Army of Darkness. Even more, “Witcher” scores with the two “repeat” elements. The zombie creatures in “Witcher” are far more terrifying than anything in “GoT” and the battle for the Wall—sorry, the Keep—is better than any of the battles in “GoT,” any season.

Maybe because it’s a mage war, with Anya Chalotra, MyAnna Buring, and back from long ago (and last episode) Anna Shaffer magicking it up to stop the invading army.

It’s far from perfect—a couple of the one-on-one fights have no intensity because it’s obvious shitty Kylo Ren (Eamon Farren) and his girl Merlin (Mimi Ndiweni) aren’t going to die—or get any better at the whole acting thing—but when it’s large scale battle stuff, director Marc Jobst brings it.

While Chalotra has a battle episode, Cavill disappears after his fight with the Army of Darkness because they need to keep the viewer in suspense about how and when the Cavill and princess Freya Allan story lines are going to converge. While it’s obvious Allan is simultaneous to Mage War, it’s not clear when Cavill’s Bruce Campbell antics occur.

The episode compensates, with Cavill, by giving him some childhood flashbacks before he was a witcher and when he’s just discovering he gets powers from Earth’s yellow sun. Wait, wrong show. It’s a bit of a cop out to do the flashbacks in the last episode of the season and probably would’ve gone far in humanizing Cavill throughout; but it sort of removes him from the show where’s got top-billing. Odd move for a season finale. Especially if he and Allan are destined to Lone Wolf and Cub.

There’s some pretty good stuff with Chalotra bonding with gal pal Shaffer and Buring—some of it even passes Bechdel—but given her relationship with her fellow mages implies history and depth, it just makes Chalotra’s character development between episodes four and, I don’t know, six even more of a shafting. Though jumping ahead thirty to forty-two years isn’t going to go well no matter what. But still… Chalotra’s the best actor the show’s got, her part ought to be better and not, you know, annoying.

Buring’s got some great stuff this episode too.

And Cavill does get a sidekick again at one point—altruistic farmer Francis Magee, who’s perfectly good at being likable. If it doesn’t seem likely he’d survive in a world of monsters.

As for Allan’s part of the episode… eh. She’s a plot pawn, moved around the board. Long fall from her spot in the first episode.

The season finale cliffhanger sets up an entirely different show when it returns, so it’s hard to be anticipating… though I’m sure I’ll be back. Wife’s not going to pass up the Henry Cavill beefcake.

The Witcher (2019) s01e07 – Before a Fall

“The Witcher” never expressly says “we’ve been Westworlding you” but this episode is where they show how they’ve been Westworlding the viewer. It’s Freya Allan’s part of the pilot, only with Henry Cavill mixed in. It’s been twelve years since Cavill was last in Jodhi May’s kingdom, which means Allan is like eleven and a half or something. Okay. Fine. She seems a little older, really doesn’t matter.

So while the show’s revealing how Cavill didn’t actually forget about his responsibility to Allan (which they still haven’t explained other than he feels responsible) and tried to save her in the first episode, May being a tyrannical warlord grandma blinded her to the better choices for Allan’s safety. Again, fine, whatever. If “The Witcher” were confident enough in its story, it wouldn’t have needed the fractured timeline because the show gets nothing out of the fracturing other than some momentary surprises. Lacking momentary surprises.

But while Cavill’s Back to the Future II adventures in the first episode are twelve years after he was last in the castle, there’s also Anya Chalotra’s arc. She’s visiting old boyfriend Royce Pierreson, who’s doing some Planet of the Apes-style archeology to discover the world before the three worlds converged or whatever. He’s basically just a cameo to set Chalotra up for going back to the mage training castle where she spent episodes two and three. There, she avoids mentor MyAnna Buring until the most dramatically effective moment while corrupting the current crop of students. And has flashbacks. Flashbacks to episodes two and three. In case anyone forgot, even though it was only four episodes ago and it’s a Netflix show so the episodes were intended to be binged.

Maybe if Chalotra had been introduced in the first episode instead of second, the flashbacks would… no, they’re just pointless. Worse, they take away from Chalotra getting to act in the present. Because she’s presumably had some character development between this episode and last, only… we don’t get to see it and we don’t get to infer it from her actions because her actions are mostly setups for exposition or flashback.

This episode is the season’s shortest at forty-five and change and it feels like at least ten minutes is reused footage.

The ending has Freya Allan revealing she’s got a different superpower than we knew about before—she’s got some arc about trying to survive among war refugees or whatever, doesn’t matter until the cliffhanger. Only it seems like her time in the magical forest was really important so it’s too bad the show didn’t use that time better.

Also, there’s a big exposition dump from Buring about the bad guys, who are basically medieval fundamentalist Christian Nazis.

But, hey, at least the timelines are all synced? And the “Destiny” drinking game rules are in full effect here as well.

The Witcher (2019) s01e02 – Four Marks

Another episode another main character… this time introducing peasant girl Anya Chalotra, who’s got magical powers. She’s got a spinal birth abnormality, leading to a pretty big hump and something going on with her jaw. She’s hated by all—including her father (who’s half elf and so it’s his fault she’s got the birth abnormalities but also why she’s got the magic, also because she’s a girl… no magic for man elves or something). The father sells her to witch MyAnna Buring, which is kind of weird since the previous episode said something about only dudes could be witchers. Or something. There was so much talking in the first episode, I’m sure I glazed over on some of it.

Anyway, the episode’s split between Chalotra and her troubles becoming a super-sorceress, Cavill as he gets a singing sidekick (a trying way too hard but vaguely adorably Joey Batey) and discovers his monster prey is actually just trying to help out exiled elves, and also princess Freya Allan, who’s living in the forest, on the run, and coming across other refugees from her kingdom. Chalotra’s got the most affecting arc, as she’s getting involved with hot boy Royce Pierreson but also trying to get her magicks on. Cavill and Batey’s arc is an exposition dump about the state of things with the elves. There’s way too much elf-related exposition, but at least it matters for almost everyone involved, not like the constant blathering about faraway kingdoms last episode.

The CG on Cavill’s monster prey is pretty bad, which certainly seems to suggest the reason there isn’t more monster hunting is they don’t have the budget for monsters.

Lars Mikkelsen’s back for a particularly dumb reveal.

Allan’s arc is somewhat effective, but more because she’s discovering what a crappy world she really lives in. Not even the monsters or the bad soldiers or whatever, her country people are awful too. Good thing she makes an elf friend (see, every story arc has something to do with elves, so all the exposition informs rather than bewilders).

Though Chalotra’s the big upswing. Even if she’s got absolutely nothing to do with the rest of the plots yet.

Still not “worth watching,” mind you. Just… on an upswing.

The Descent (2005, Neil Marshall)

I want to say nice things about The Descent. Or, more… I wish I could say nice things about The Descent. There are some nice things to say about it–the production values are strong, Marshall’s composition is decent, Sam McCurdy’s photography is good. It’s rarely boring–though it does drag a little. Tedious without being boring. Possibly because the characters are all so unlikable you’re just waiting for them to die off.

The characters are unlikable partially because of director Marshall’s script, partially because of the actors, partially because of Marshall’s “direction” of the actors.

The Descent is about six women who go caving in North Carolina. With the exception of organizer Natalie Mendoza, they’re all either from the British Isles or they’re Scandinavian. They travelled halfway across the globe for this caving trip, because–as the opening of the film recounts–ostensible lead Shauna Macdonald has lost her family in a horrible car accident and she needs to get back to her extreme sports lifestyle.

While horrific, the car accident is also exceptionally contrived. All the character relationships in The Descent are exceptionally contrived. Marshall’s characterizations are razor thin, so having a bunch of bland, sometimes interchangeable actors who he doesn’t give any performance direction contributes a lot to that tediousness I mentioned. Maybe if Macdonald weren’t so wooden. Or Mendoza. But mostly Macdonald. What’s so strange is there are some outliers–Alex Reid, as Macdonald’s BFF, is good. Her character’s still thin, but she’s good. And Saskia Mulder and MyAnna Buring as the Scandinavian sisters are fine. They’re likable. Mendoza, from her first scene, is exceptionally unlikable. Ditto her protege Nora-Jane Noone, though for different reasons. And while Macdonald is supposed to be tragic and sympathetic, it’s in a porcelain doll sense. She’s lost her family, after all.

Something none of the other characters really engage with. Or, in Noone’s case, even seem to know about. Besides Noone, they’re all ostensibly best extreme sports buds. Who have absolutely no chemistry with one another. Mendoza’s an abject sociopath from scene one and there’s no reason anyone–particularly not the characters in the film–would be friends with her, much less trust her to plan a caving trip in Deliverance country.

Noone and Mendoza’s character relationship–and utter lack of onscreen chemistry–is one of Descent’s many deficiencies. Marshall’s script and direction is about moving caricatures from point A to point B. It’s grating.

But The Descent isn’t a Deliverance riff. Well, unless you want to make a lot of mean jokes about Applachian mountain men. See, down in the unexplored cave, the women discover they’re not alone. There are monsters. And so then the women have to inventively–often using their caving gear–fight the monsters.

Marshall borrows action beats from a variety of films–mostly the first couple Alien movies and, thanks to David Julyan’s almost comically derivative score, The Thing. There are some good shots here and there, along with some bad ones (including a jaw-droppingly bad composite), but Marshall, editor Jon Harris, and photographer McCurdy don’t impress. The sets–all the cave interiors are sets–impress. A bit. Not enough to make up for any of the film’s other deficiencies, but they’re good.

Almost anything would’ve improved The Descent. Writing, acting, directing (as far as the performances go). With any of those elements improved, Marshall could’ve been just as derivative and the film would’ve turned out better. Instead, he’s got this derivative film with all sorts of other problems.

Though, really, it’s an absurdly obvious film from the opening titles scene so… none of what follows is actually surprising.

Oh. Right. The lack of jump scares. It seems intentional. At least, I hope it’s intentional. But as a stylistic choice it’s a little weird. They might get the energy up. Nothing else does.



Written and directed by Neil Marshall; director of photography, Sam McCurdy; edited by Jon Harris; music by David Julyan; production designer, Simon Bowles; produced by Christian Colson; released by Pathé Distribution.

Starring Shauna Macdonald (Sarah), Natalie Mendoza (Juno), Alex Reid (Beth), Saskia Mulder (Rebecca), MyAnna Buring (Sam), and Nora-Jane Noone (Holly).

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