Questbound - Forbidden Ventures Of The Undead Soul


Reviewed by: Andrew Robertson

"It is archly self-aware, delightfully so, to the extent that its weaknesses become strengths because they serve as winks to knowing audiences." | Photo: courtesy of the Ca'Foscari Film Festival

Opening with a poem, illustrated by seeming embroidered tapestries, this film draws from a variety of sources but is most clearly influenced by video games. Western RPG traditions with their own roots in pen and paper roleplaying games like Dungeons & Dragons and their alternate evolutions in Japanese video games. Fantasy might draw from ur-texts like Beowulf and Lord Of The Rings but it has many subsequent versions whose traits equip subsequent outings. We're at some score of Final Fantasies, an untold number of souls have re-rolled to curse the darkness. The trappings of the genre extend from persistent massively-multiplayer entities like the World Of Warcraft to vicious roguelikes to ostentatious versions of the Campbellian hero-journey with voice-actors you have heard of. Here the influences are stretched further to include dating simulators.

To give it its full title it is Questbound: Forbidden Ventures Of The Undead Soul (from Death, to Life, to Death Again). Even its nomenclature plays with conventions, including on-screen text that explains the entities we are seeing. We are in a golden age of 'Old School Rules' and 'New School' feels, entities like Mork Borg bring punk aesthetics bolstered by fluorescent inks and more fonts than a cathedral in a Borges story. It is archly self-aware, delightfully so, to the extent that its weaknesses become strengths because they serve as winks to knowing audiences.

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Digitally animated, occasional moments of jerkiness feel more like frame-rate dropping because of incompatible mods than a weakness of technique. They're still there though, and while I'm inclined to be forgiving where the motion is slowed, there are places where purposeful pacing becomes plodding. The style of the embroidered pro- and epi-logues owes debts to Bayeux and the Flintstones' Yabba-dabba-doo in its earnestness. Jeannie Coenders is credited with illustrations so I believe those are hers. Sas van Gulik provides Skull Fire Simulations, a necessity when one of your characters is a multi-story skeleton whose accursed crown rests uneasily upon both brow and tattered orbital ridge. When character design makes me want to break out sketchbook and pen and borrow from it I know it has succeeded, the last time I was so immediately delighted by something might have been Wolf's car in The Bad Guys. Something that felt so immediately right in terms of design that it felt wrong not to copy it. Pim Folmer and Merijn Vieergever contribute music and sound design, the 'big block' effects of monstrous steps work through their crudity.

Less crude, even with anime-influenced blushing, the designs of the dread Undying King (Master of All Magic. Scorpio Moon) and the visiting Knight. I shan't go into the latter's details, their revelation is where the tale's emotion and surprise both lie. Also some of its comedy, the rhythms of declaration and repetition one of numerous charms. It reminded me of two web comics, Rich Burlew's Order Of The Stick and the far less safe for work work of Trudy Cooper and Doug Bayne, Oglaf. Alexander Bierling and Owen Buckley have crafted something whose bonuses stack to the heavens, that buffs to the point of shining. That's buff as in polish, to improve as in videogames, and the more erotic counterpart to hench.

As the kind of person who has shelves of role-, board-, computer-, console- and war-games and, truth be told, who looks like it, I am all too aware that the associated fandoms can be rife with toxicities. Ironically perhaps, given how many of them are full of demands for ongoing support. That makes it all the more pleasing to see an unabashedly queer narrative within this context. Having watched it, I was overjoyed to be able to watch it again, the filmic equivalent of 'new game plus'. It didn't unlock new content, but it did provide new context. The bookending sequences are set within the corridors of a labyrinth, but what they bracket will itself amaze.

Reviewed on: 22 Mar 2023
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When a brave knight arrives at a castle to try to overthrow an aged, skeletal king, the king, mistaking his intentions, begins to flirt with him.

Director: Marlén Ríos-Farjat, Alexander Bierling, Owen Buckley

Year: 2023

Runtime: 8 minutes

Country: Netherlands


Ca' Foscari 2023

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