Possibly our most controversial Hall of Fame inductee yet, Solomon Kane is a film that I can’t help but love. It received mixed reviews with critics at time of release, and a decade later, it’s barely remembered at all.
Solomon Kane seamlessly combines fantasy and history, forging them into this epic tale of a reformed killer desperately trying to save his soul from the Devil by rescuing a young girl from the clutches of a sorcerer’s evil cult.
Set in the early 17th Century, the film opens with a battle somewhere in North Africa. Solomon Kane, a mercenary, leads a merciless crew of fighters into the heart of an Ottoman fortress, only to encounter the Devil’s Reaper, who informs Kane that his soul is forfeit to Satan on account of his sinful, murdering ways. Leaping from a window and into the sea, Kane escapes.
We’re re-introduced to Kane, now living in solitude at a monastery, where he has renounced his violent ways in an attempt to keep the Devil at bay. He’s also covered his body with various markings, which he believes offers him protection from evil forces.
When he’s asked to leave the monastery, Kane’s oath of pacifism is tested. It’s kept, but he’s promptly beaten, robbed and left for dead, surviving only by the good graces of the Crowthorns, a Puritan family who take him in and tend his wounds.
After a brief encounter with a witch, the Crowthorns are attacked by the followers of Malachi, an evil sorcerer in the West (the West Country, that is), and Kane swears a new vow – he’ll break his oath of non-violence in order to rescue young Meredith Crowthorn from Malachi’s hulking, wordless lieutenant, known only as the Masked Rider.
What follows is impressively gritty, given the fantastical nature of the story. There’s limbs severed and throats cut, and demons, ghouls and bandits litter the hopeless, blighted landscape of director M. J. Bassett’s reimagined 17th Century Britain. It’s a world that makes its magic feel grounded and tangible, without wasting any unnecessary time on explaining its existence.
Therein lies Solomon Kane‘s greatest asset: its story, while a fairly straightforward tale of redemption, is a relentless powerhouse of momentum that builds to a surprisingly satisfying conclusion.
It’s only fair to talk criticisms, though, but honestly, the biggest (and pretty much only) issue I have with Solomon Kane is its low-quality CGI. This is most heavily featured in its very first scene, which admittedly sets a pretty low bar, but with the rest of the movie favouring more practical effects, its thankfully not too big of an issue.
The film’s strongest points are without a doubt its action sequences and its gloomy atmosphere. There’s a visceral, businesslike attitude to violence, with Kane delivering swift, vicious deaths to those who stand between him and his redemption – something that James Purefoy carries off convincingly. There’s also a mounting sense of dread and hopelessness as Kane stalks towards his goal, passing the death, destruction and despair left behind by Malachi’s forces. There’s an epic symbolism in Kane’s deliberate nature, heading towards what everyone else is fleeing, and it makes him every bit as heroic as any spandex-wearing MCU hotshot.
It’s far from a perfect film, but its lifeless, muddy landscapes (shot mostly on location in the Czech Republic) perfectly evoke the bleak, pre-Enlightenment era Britain that was intended, with just a hint of dark, powerfully unsettling magic.
It’s also one of the only films to have a certified sword-swinging badass speak in a West Country accent, which is something that I personally would like to see a lot more of.
Summary: Gritty, grim, and just the right amount of grounded, Solomon Kane is a God-fearing, throat-slashing historical fantasy epic that creates an incredibly specific itch for more of the like.