The Threshold Between Man and Gods: The Spine of Night: (2021) - Reviewed


At first glance, the aesthetic of The Spine of Night (2021) will be familiar to fans of the rotoscoping era of animation during the '70s and '80s. Animator and co-director Morgan Galen Knight borrows heavily from the filmography of Ralph Bakshi, particularly his 1983 fantasy epic Fire and Ice. Outside of the obvious influences, however, The Spine of Night manages to occupy its own territory, incorporating a good dose of cosmic horror and even some moments of pathos in between splashes of violence and death.

The Spine of Night initially follows Tzod, voiced by Lucy Lawless, a swamp witch who is the caretaker of a mysterious glowing blue flower that seems to hold mystical powers. She scales a snowy mountain to appeal to a guardian in golden armor (Richard E. Grant), a being who protects the last few petals of the azure blossoms. It appears that this flower has been the catalyst for for many horrible events in the land and Tzod needs to access it to right the wrongs that have been wrought onto humanity. 

The narrative is split up into several vignettes told by Tzod to the guardian in order to convince him to help her in her mission. It is quite similar to the anthology style of Heavy Metal (1981) with the flower replacing the Loc-Nar as the all encompassing mystical force that drives the stories. While some tales are stronger than others, they all flow together well, though the short runtime of the film and the fast pacing makes it feel somewhat convoluted.

Fans of old school dark fantasy will find a lot to love here, and it's apparent that the creators are well versed in the genre. Ultra-violence is constant and explicit with arms and heads being lopped off left and right and guts spilled at an alarming rate. There is also a lot of non-sexual nudity both male and female on display, and Tzod proudly walks around fully in the buff with only a few pieces of jewelry adorning her body. The animation itself is beautiful, if a bit lacking in details, but the surreal and frightening character designs more than make up for it. Unfortunately, the voice acting is a mixed bag, and it seems that having famous actors took precedence over actual voice acting prowess though it's not so egregiously bad that it completely detracts from the enjoyment of the film.

As for the thematic elements, The Spine of Night does have interesting things to say about existentialism and spirituality, as the blue flower seems to hold the knowledge of the entire universe, a knowledge so deep and eternal that humanity cannot fully comprehend it. The reason that it is so protected is that once we know how infinitesimal our influence is in the universe our lives have no meaning and thus nihilism takes over and chaos reigns. When the film is focusing on the deeper elements that is where it shines.

Although The Spine of Night wears its influences on its sleeve, and might come off as derivative as a result, it still feels like a breath of fresh air in a medium that doesn't have too many adult-themed stylized entries.

--Michelle Kisner