Forbidden Empire review



2015

Directed By Oleg Stepchenko

Starring Jason Flemyng, Andrey Smolyakov and Aleksey Chadov

Forbidden Empire is an adaptation of Nikolai Gogol's popular 1835 short story about the demon Viy -- whose gaze was deadly if met eye-to-eye -- it was originally scheduled to be released in 2009 to coincide with the 200th anniversary of Gogol's birth. Jason Flemyng stars as Dzhonatan Grin a cartographer who takes on the task of mapping the uncharted lands of Transylvania.

How well do you know your Nikolai Gogol? I'm not sure if a deep appreciation of 200 year old Russian literature is a prerequisite for Forbidden Empire but I have a feeling it would richen the experience.  I have a similar feeling when I watch Terry Gilliam films. Every frame is bursting with purpose, nothing is accidental and every time you revisit the film some new discovery awaits you. This film (once again like the films of Gilliam) is densely layered but completely approachable. High art for the masses.

This film picks up at the ending of Viy and it hits the ground running. Without explanation or prologue we are thrown into a world that feels somewhat familiar but slightly askew. Mixing elements of steampunk, fantasy and adventure Forbidden Empire is a visual delight, darkly beautiful without veering into Tim Burton territory.

Have I mentioned how fun this movie is? No, well that's an egregious oversight on my behalf. At times funny, at times scary Forbidden Empire works on multiple levels and gives the viewer an entertaining and memorable experience. The reason I'm taking a moment to point this out is the source material. I'm admittedly ignorant when it comes a number of things but when it comes to Russian novelists and their work, I'm utterly clueless. My only real exposure to Russian literature was a half-hearted attempt at reading The Brothers Karamazov, I know its considered a classic but I found it far too dense and reading it was an exhausting experience. So I have a bias based on one book and while I know this isn't fair I haven't found any compelling evedience that my prejudice isn't accurate. That is until now. I'm positive that I'm not ready for Dostoevsky but I might be ready for Gogol. If he was the inspiration for this and Gogol Bordello's name then I'm definitely on board.

This is what happens when I write these things with a few hours sleep. I'm way off track but in a way that's appropriate for this film. Its a frenetic kaleidoscope of light and sound that left me wanting to re watch it immediately. 

Forbidden Empire will be available on VOD May 22nd