My cinema-affair with LARPing (live action role playing; or is it “live action role playing-ing” if you call it “LARPing” and not just “LARP”) began with the documentary Darkon, which I saw at SXSW many years ago (and the souvenir Darkon sword I won at that SXSW screening still sits atop my bookcase). Though the subject has shown up more and more in documentaries and movies over the years (Role Models being my other favorite LARP-friendly film), you never forget your first time, so it is often with Darkon-colored lenses that I see LARP cinema. Michael Peterson’s Lloyd the Conqueror doesn’t supplant Darkon in that spot, but it fits in nicely with LARP-friendly films that I enjoy.
As Lloyd the Conqueror opens, the Demons & Dwarves LARPing community is under siege by Derek the Dark Lord (Mike Smith), whose strategy and cunning has lead him to win the local championship year in and year out. With the record for most championships in his sights, Derek is enraged to hear that the upcoming tournament is to be canceled, as everyone is so sick of losing to him and his Horde of Chaos that he’s short of the necessary opponents.
Which could be problematic for a dark lord, not having any foes, but it turns out Derek is also a college professor, and three of his students are about to fail his class. With their financial aid on the line, Lloyd (Evan Williams), Patrick (Jesse Reid) and Oswald (Scott Patey) are given the opportunity to earn extra credit and pass Derek’s class, provided they join Demons & Dwarves on the side of Light so that the tournament can go on as planned. Derek’s championship record seems to be in the bag, until Lloyd and friends join up with the self-exiled White Wizard Andy (Brian Posehn), who reluctantly agrees to train them, and recruit Cassandra (Tegan Moss), Lloyd’s crush who also happens to be a violent, badass instructor of “Self Defense for Women.”
Overall, I enjoyed Lloyd the Conqueror quite a bit. The opening apes a Lord of the Rings-style telling of the mythology of Derek’s ascension to power, which is a nice, and hilarious, touch to get the audience in the mood. I could also definitely see both Dark Lord Derek and White Wizard Andy actually existing in real life as hardcore LARPers; while the film is obviously humorously exaggerated in its portrayal of LARP, it is nonetheless pretty realistic too.
I wasn’t always on board with Lloyd and his cohorts, however. Patrick, in particular, was a pretty obnoxious character. When he’s not outright mocking their endeavors to earn extra credit, he’s lazily going about his business. You get his point; he makes the jokes at the expense of everyone else who is getting into, or has already embraced, LARP. He’s the cynic in the audience, there to mock it all. At a certain point, though, Patrick’s personality is so negative and abrasive it’s a bummer to be around… and to watch.
Oswald, on the other hand, is one of those characters that you can always enjoy; he’s like a playful, loyal and somewhat slow-on-the-uptake dog. You know, the perfect best friend. Where Patrick mocks and relents, Oswald charges ahead with fun and fury. In that sense, as much as I disliked Patrick, I enjoyed Oswald, so the two cancel out in the equation, leaving Lloyd as the determining factor. And, like in any group with two extremes, he’s right there in the middle. Sometimes you dig him, sometimes you don’t, but he’s the hero so you live with it.
Which is one of the downsides of the flick, having a hero that you’re lukewarm about. The film maintains the humor enough to keep you entertained, but I can’t say that I cared all that much about the characters and whether they succeed in their goal. Really, I just wanted to watch people with foam weapons beat the s**t out of each other, not in a mocking way, but because it’s hilarious to see someone embrace a barbarian character, for example, and then let their fury out with cardboard. So a keen interest in whether Lloyd and company actually win isn’t as important as enjoying everything in between.
And all that said, Brian Posehn’s White Wizard is easily the best part of the entire film, followed closely by Unicorn-Guy. There’s just something about the way Posehn delivers his lines while eliciting a bit of medieval whimsy into it. Again, I could see his White Wizard character not only actually out on the field of LARP battle, but also running registration for the league from his own games store. Everything about his character worked for me, and if anyone was on the fence about checking out the flick, it’s worth it for Posehn’s performance alone. And Mike Smith’s Derek, of course. His college professor/Dark Lord douchebag is spot-on.
If you’re in the LARPing community, should you be worried that Lloyd the Conqueror is just 90-something minutes of jokes at your expense? Yes and no. The film is funny, and many jokes do come from the absurdity of the action onscreen BUT it only works because so many of the actors embrace their portrayals and deliver it all seriously. If Posehn or Smith were knowingly winking at the audience, it wouldn’t be funny at all. The flick is funny, it ain’t mean-spirited.