Review: 'The Green Knight' laces Arthurian fantasy with slow-burn horror

Dev Patel as Gawain in David Lowery's The Green Knight (Photo: A24)

The Green Knight
4 out of 5 Stars
David Lowery
Writer: David Lowery
Starring: Dev Patel, Alicia Vikander, Joel Edgerton, Sarita Choudhury
Genre: Fantasy, Drama
Rated: R for violence, some sexuality and graphic nudity

SALT LAKE CITY (KUTV) – Synopsis: Sir Gawain, King Arthur’s nephew, embarks on a journey to find the Green Knight and fulfill his duty. Even if it means certain death.

Review: We’ve seen bits and pieces of the Arthurian legends in films like John Boorman’s “Excalibur,” Antoine Fuqua’s “King Arthur,” Disney’s “The Sword in the Stone” and Joshua Logan’s adaptation of the Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe musical “Camelot.”

“The Green Knight” is darker, moodier, and less accessible than those films. Partly because it is journey into a lesser known space within the Arthurian legend. Also, because director/writer David Lowery has crafted an atmospheric nightmare filled with ghosts, witches, thieves, nude giants, a magical fox, and a pervasive sense of dread. It’s often grotesque and beautiful in the same frame.

It’s also a slow burn. Those who found the Robert Eggers horror film “The Witch” to be too bloodless and pastoral or thought Lowery’s “A Ghost Story” to be incomprehensible arthouse trash might be disappointed to learn that “The Green Knight” isn’t particularly fun. Well, not fun in the traditional sense of the word.

The story follows Sir Gawain (Dev Patel), nephew to King Arthur (Sean Harris) and reprobate who spends his nights whoring and his days recovering what the night that was before. He’s hardly the stuff of legend. He knows this. Motivated by his worthlessness and his mother’s dark magic, Gawain accepts a Christmas-day challenge from the mysterious Green Knight (Ralph Ineson). The game is essentially that whatever Gawain should choose to do to the knight the knight will do in return to Gawain a year later.

Gawain cuts off the Green Knight’s head. An act that gives him renown and seals his fate.

We skip forward nearly a year. Gawain is set to begin his long march into hell as he travels through the forest and fields to find the Green Chapel where the Green Knight waits for Christmas.

Where Terry Gilliam and his comedic friends found humor and levity in the Arthurian legend and created “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” Lowery finds more weighty themes as he deconstructs what it means to be honorable through a character that has none. And yet, in the end perhaps.

The cast is tremendous. Patel gives Gawain a mix of swagger and cowardness. Alicia Vikander, who plays a whore who dreams of being a queen, is the emotional center of the film. She is equal parts bold and vulnerable. If there is a tragedy here, it belongs to her. Both Harris and Kate Dickie as the queen appear sickly. The great Arthur drained of every ounce of his noble frame. They are shadows, breathing corpses that wheeze more than they speak.

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If you’re looking for a summer blockbuster with explosions and bravado, go see “Black Widow.” If you’re looking for something a bit more intimate with a nod toward the macabre that will linger with you, go see “The Green Knight.”

Oh, and my giving “Cruella” the Oscar for Best Costume, Best Makeup and Hairstyling, and Best Art Direction in May might have been a bit premature. You’ll also want to earmark Daniel Hart’s score. It’s some incredible stuff.

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