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Worth A Look48.65%
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3 reviews, 19 user ratings

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by Jay Seaver

"Surprisingly fond of its subjects."
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2006 BOSTON FANTASTIC FILM FESTIVAL: It would be easy for "Darkon" to be a movie that points and sneers; it is, after all, a film about grown men who fight mock wars with foam rubber weapons. It does occasionally provoke some laughs out of people who role-play with gusto, but every community has people who fit an unpopular stereotype. It's still worth remembering that "weird" correlates well with "interesting".

Darkon, the film tells us, is an evolving fantasy world; participants take on a character and role-play that persona on weekends. Those role-playing sessions may involve negotiations, palace intrigue, or combat. Though the activities take place in parks and soccer fields in the Baltimore area, they represent battles over hexagonal spaces on a map. The game has been active for twenty years, with players joining up and leaving during that time. The mechanisms of play are only given a little explanation, though, as it's the players that interest the filmmakers most.

Our primary focus is on Kenyon "Keldar" Wells and Skip "Bannor" Lipman, long-time players who have risen to be leaders of their realms. Keldar's kingdom Mordom has been constantly expanding and occupies nearly half the game board; Bannor's Laconia is aligned, but as the film begins, he announces plans to break away and tries to rally other groups to his cause. In game terms, this will involve capturing Keldar and bringing him before a war-crimes tribunal, a difficult task with the armies and allies he commands.

This is all make-believe, of course, but directors Luke Meyer and Andrew Neel allow us to be drawn into this interactive, improvised storytelling, making an apparent decision not to show any dungeon masters, although I'm sure there must be some sort of authority running the game (someone has to posit the existence of this tribunal and organize the building of the fortress Bannor's forces storm). Instead, the focus is on the players, both in and out of the games. In some cases, the borders between game characters and players is easily defined and clear, as with a college-aged fellow who introverted in the real world and talks candidly about suing the game to try and become more social, or an older man who jokes is laid-back about how his Dark Elf character happily double-crosses people because the worst that can happen is they kill you, and you'll still be back next week.

Our main subjects invest somewhat more of themselves into the role. Wells will occasionally break character and gives asides to the camera, but Keldar's cocky arrogance occasionally seems to be more than an affectation; it's sometimes difficult to tell whether the disparaging tone in his voice is how he feels about Skip or him playing up how Keldar feels betrayed by Bannor. Lipman, meanwhile, sometimes makes it difficult to see where he ends and Bannor begins. A stay-at-home father of two, he spends a good portion of his free time planning for the weekend's game. We hear from his wife, who is an occasional player but has concerns about how the frequent weekend camping/gaming trips make it hard to spend time together as a family, and we see him get into a heated argument with a friend when the other man says he wants to start a new character and do something different within the game. The flip side is that how he behaves in the game seems to be heavily influenced by his real life as well; Bannor's decision to break away from Keldar's sphere of influence looks at least partly influenced by a real-life betrayal: Lipman's brother seized control of the fantasy gaming company their father founded, in part because Skip allowed him to assume more authority, and it's not too much of a jump to guess that his newfound interest in doing things the right way and stepping up as a leader are a reflection of that experience, although nobody on-screen explicitly connects them.

Many of these folks come off as pitiable figures outside the game, but Meyer and Neel counteract that by presenting the game as being just as vivid as the real world. Certainly, it would be easier to make the game look silly, and the times when the real world bumps against the players are kind of amusing. So some framing sequences are done with Dark Elves in full makeup, speaking subtitled Elvish. Several of the battles were re-enacted at a later date so that the filmmakers could get multiple camera angles; this gives them the chance to edit these scenes together like something out of a fantasy adventure movie rather than a typical documentary. Also doing a fine job of adding to that atmosphere is the excellent music by Jonah Rapino, which somehow even manages to add something majestic to helicopter shots of the suburbs of Baltimore without tripping over the line into parody.

In fact, that's something that can be seen as a positive for the entire film - there are many points where it could easily find its subjects laughable, but it almost always comes out as finding them and their hobby interesting. And, happily, does a fine job of making them interesting to an audience, too.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=13939&reviewer=371
originally posted: 11/17/06 16:28:59
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 South By Southwest Film Festival For more in the 2006 South By Southwest Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 Boston Fantastic Film Festival For more in the 2006 Boston Fantastic Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

12/20/08 Shaun Wallner Interesting Movie! 4 stars
6/26/08 Matt Well-made, thought-provoking movie. Even if you hate LARP culture you should check it out 5 stars
3/13/08 Sid Interesting, and no weirder than fantasy football. 4 stars
2/11/08 Herb Wolas A nitwit movie about nitwits 1 stars
11/12/07 Teresa OMG! Thoroughly enjoyed it. I need to find a place to blow off steam like they do. 4 stars
1/04/07 April Saw it at SilverDocs -- It's bloody hysterical. Can i get a DVD for the LotR nuts? 4 stars
11/28/06 A Darkonian Hated it, didnt want it made. 1 stars
11/07/06 brian WOW!!!!!! 5 stars
10/15/06 William Goss Responsible doc reveals a flourishing creative subculture. 4 stars
9/28/06 Rodrugg Didn't see it 4 stars
8/02/06 David Schreiber Should be turned into 10 million guitar picks 1 stars
5/13/06 jeb simply amazing!!! 5 stars
5/05/06 Michael Rasmussen Crapola 1 stars
4/04/06 jim awesome movie 5 stars
4/03/06 Eddie Kasica Even here in the Land of Amnesia, one wonders: why would anyone spend time, thought and dol 1 stars
3/16/06 raphael awesome 5 stars
3/16/06 Rebecca I loved the aping of fantasy movie directing here. I'm very glad I got to see this! 5 stars
3/15/06 Phyllis Gay Opened my eyes to a cultural movement I knew nothing about 5 stars
3/12/06 Jon Peters Great film! Darkon raises losts of questions of what's fantasy and what's reality... 5 stars
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Directed by
  Luke Meyer
  Andrew Neel

Written by

  Skip Lipman
  Kenyon Wells
  Daniel McArthur
  Rebecca Thurmond

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