BY BECCA JOHNSON JANUARY 29, 2024
William Brent Bell has been consistently delivering horror films since 2006's video-game slasher Stay Alive. His most competent work to date is 2022's Orphan: First Kill, a solid sequel to the renowned original that managed to incorporate a twist of it's own. His new directorial effort is Lord of Misrule, a small-town cult-based horror set around a Harvest Festival. Starring Ralph Ineson (The VVitch) and Tuppence Middleton (The Imitation Game), Lord of Misrule includes a creative villain, a well-crafted cult atmosphere and a harrowing missing child storyline that adds depth and emotion. It's slow in places and borrows heavily from existing material, but it has a great tone and immersive feel to it that helps it flourish.
A priest begins a desperate search when her daughter goes missing during the local harvest festival. As she uncovers secrets from the town's dark past, she must decide how much she's willing to sacrifice to rescue the girl from the grip of evil.
The aesthetic and tone of Lord of Misrule provides much of the movie's enjoyment. The small town emanates a claustrophobic and clique-y feel from the get-go, making things feel unsettling and isolated. With it's ethereal atmosphere, animal masks and orange-toned harvest setting, it evokes an eerie charm that draws you in to it's weirdness almost immediately. It's full of absolutely stunning visuals, with beautiful cinematography and colour grading throughout. Despite being set in the real world, it has an almost fantastical vibe due to the whimsical costuming and setting. It has a town with a dark history, a mysterious creature, a haunting song sung by the townsfolk and plenty of buried secrets – it's a folk horror through and through. If you're here purely for the vibes, you won't be disappointed.
Ralph Ineson is always impressive within the horror genre, and he delivers once again. Ineson's character is cold and creepy, traits that he always portrays well. As the run-time progresses, he gets to do more and more with his character, and he really shines by the end. Starring opposite is Tuppence Middleton, who gives a performance with a lot of depth and emotion. Playing the new village Priest who has recently moved her family to the town, her daughter goes missing during the Harvest Festival celebrations which allows Middleton to explore her range through a mix of emotions. Middleton displays her characters heartbreak, grief and fear extremely well, and she's really worth rooting for when trying to get to the bottom of the disappearance. The Police don't seem to make any progress, so she must take matters into her own hands. The performances elevate the material nicely.
Lord of Misrule has a slow pace over it's 100 minute run-time – this often works, as it's deliberate. It drip feeds the audience information and asks a lot of questions, slowly and carefully unveiling truths as the run-time progresses. The build-up works a treat, and it's all very ominous and dark and provides a lot of much needed tension. On the flip-side of this, many viewers may be left thinking that the build-up was more intriguing than the climax. It certainly goes places during the final act, but it's a little predictable and perhaps not as exciting as it should be. Without entering spoiler territory, the ending is lacklustre and should have amounted to more. The plot itself is super interesting, with it's missing child premise and folk/cult approach to this, but where it ends up going is a bit disappointing.
In terms of the horror Lord of Misrule plays things quite safe. There's plenty of folklore imagery here, a few instances of gore and perhaps one or two jump scares, but that's really it. Due to the storyline of Middleton's daughter going missing, it mostly plays out like a dark thriller – though this works a treat, many horror hounds may be a little disappointed that it lacks scares. What adds to this disappointment is that it often can't help feeling like the movies it is evidently based on. Often coming across like a modernised The Wicker Man retelling, with a hint of Midsommar and a splash of The Ritual, it ends up feeling cliched and similar to what we've seen before. It struggles to breakaway from the movies it shares it's sub-genre with. It's smaller budget British-ness gives it some edge, but it's not entirely it's own thing.
Lord of Misrule is perfect for fans of folk horror, as William Brent Bell knows the exact ingredients needed to cook up a competent one. Despite feeling occasionally familiar and predictable, it's strong performances, superb visuals and tangible atmosphere make it worth a watch. Ineson and Middleton excel, and the folklore vibes are unmatched.