A review of Legend of the Red Reaper –
Summary: In an ancient time, humans thought themselves finally safe from the ravages of the Demons. Their protectors, the Reapers, stand poised to hand the lands over to them. But, one Reaper sees what is coming. Half-human, half-demon, Aella the Red Reaper seeks to vindicate and protect those she loves.
For those that expect a film hyped as a “Sword & Sorcery Epic” to be full of fire and lightning battles, swordplay, and dragons this is fantasy of a different sort. This is “down in the heart” fantasy. This is epic, in that it adheres to the classic mythological themes and conflicts of Man vs. (or should we say in this more enlightened age: Woman vs.) Herself, Woman vs. Society, Woman vs. Fate, and perhaps Woman vs. Woman.
One of the central plots is two women struggling over the heart of one man, what could be more romantic? Lots of blood and violence with a sword, of course!
With a sweeping backdrop of mountains, forests, and even a little hut by a fjord, this is a world populated by humans, demons, and their unfortunate byproducts – the reapers. I say unfortunate because most were conceived by the rape of human villagers.
Two realms are the focus of this story. In the city of Enid, the humans live in relative peace with the reapers protecting them. The other realm is ruled by a vindictive warlord, S’grun, who covets Castle Ragjnboyg in Enid and wants to rid the land of the reapers. The tensions between the human leaders are coming to a head because Eris, prince of Enid, is going to be crowned the first king of the land.
This poses a particular problem for Aella, the last reaper born and who gets her nickname “Red” from her brilliant locks of flame, because she is in love with Eris. But, she is constantly reminded that a human king cannot have a reaper queen! Her mentors within the reapers all tell her the same thing; this is a new age beginning – the age of Man.
As the reapers are seeing their time of protection coming to an end, Aella sees something different on the horizon.
Aella is different. She was born to a powerful woman known as the Teller Witch. Her mother has the gift of precognition, and although young Aella was unaware of it, the Teller Witch has been preparing her for a day when she would face her biggest challenge in battle – her demon father. Having assumed all her life that her mother had given her over to the demons in trade for an elixir made of demon blood to stay young, Aella has dealt with feelings of rejection, unworthiness, and rage. But, she is about to find out that her past is not all that it seemed.
The leader of the demons, Ganesh, may have been trying to create a demon warrior out of his red-haired daughter with cruelty and force, but in fact he was creating a weapon that would fight on the side of the humans. Aella, rescued and living among the people of Enid (even if she is not totally accepted by all of them), was given another ‘gift’ by her mother. She inherited visions of devastation ; visions of an invasion; visions of the return of the demons. All interwoven with her memories of fear and pain at the hands of her father.
This back story of the reapers and the Ganesh/Teller Witch exchange is laid out distinctly in the first few minutes with both visceral images and narration, helping the audience to understand Aella’s feelings of alienation from the others and her, at times, uncontrollable rage.
I like that RED REAPER shows a woman losing control, at times completely driven to violence by her anger, but yet does not dismiss this as “she needs help, she’s crazy and un-ladylike.” When a woman is angry, it all too often gets flipped back on her as “oh, it must be her hormones” rather than validating her anger as deep-seated and justifiable. Aella has a RIGHT to be angry. But, this does not mean that she is portrayed as a psycho bitty, either. She is a warrior and a woman, through and through. To quote another reviewer, “Unlike other films that feature women in lead fighting roles, Aella was not sexualized, nor was she attempting to emulate a man.”*
And, this strength (inner as well as physical) is extended to many of the characters in REAPER, male and female alike. The female reapers are equal to the men, warriors all. Aella does not compromise who she is for Eris. She may have body issues because of her demon blood, but as for her skills, her passion, and even her rage she needs to give no apologies to the man she loves. He loves her with all her ups and downs, not despite them.
This relationship is mirrored in a second passionate couple in the movie, the reapers Freya and Andrae. It shows the audience what tender companionship Aella is missing out on, given that everyone in her world seems to be telling her to stay away from Eris. Except Eris, of course.
The other lady in Eris’s life is Indira, the woman chosen to be his queen. Chosen by his parents and hers, apparently, but not by him. He is a gentleman, though, and not resistant to the idea. But, his passion is for Aella. He is not presented as a two-timing, vacillating male full of hormones, either. His intentions ring true and he stands out in the genre, in that he lets the women he loves decide, as they are trying to let him decide at the same time. It is an interesting dynamic set up in this flick that gives strength-of-character to each person involved, and even gives Indira a slightly devious edge that is not common in the “ingénue” role.
Even the “bad guys” have their moments of significance. Connall, the tender gentleman son of the hard-nosed warlord S’grun, could have been played off as comic relief, but instead is compassionate and smarter than his warmongering father. His resistance to his father’s ambitions creates a bridge between the two opposing lands and a unity that helps Eris and his people in their time of need.
Well, I don’t want to give you the whole plot, but suffice it to say that this film, although not high-tech or flashy and prone to some issues that are not uncommon in a film with a limited budget, Legend of the Red Reaper has a LOT to say.
The story was laid out cleverly, it was clear in its focus, and had enough great ‘side’ plot moments to make it fun! There were humorous moments without making it corny, and there were moments that brought tears to my eyes. But, the emotional undercurrents will resonate with many viewers and stick in their hearts. From the memories Aella carries of abuse at her demon father’s hand to the fact that an independent, capable warrior is facing a time when her world will be relying on men more than her own kind, as the reapers’ role fades to the history, this film has many layers, most poignant and fierce.
Tara Cardinal and her many casts and crews worked long and hard to see this vision come alive, and as a lover of fantasy and myth, I must say that their devotion shows!
* by Aphrodite Kocięda. Featured on http://www.btchflcks.com/2013/09/why-we-need-more-women-filmmakers.html