Saying that a modern folk horror movie is tangentially inspired by Robin Hardy’s The Wicker Man is like claiming every high fantasy novel published after the mid-50s is inspired by The Lord of the Rings — it usually goes without saying. Director William Brent Bell and writer Tom de Ville’s Lord of Misrule is of little exception to this rule regarding its premise and execution. However, the filmmakers utilize their assets to make the tale its own beast — all equipped with an eerie little tune that still hasn’t left my head.
The priest Rebecca Holland (Tuppence Middleton) arrived ten months ago to preach at the local church, and her husband Henry (Matt Stokoe) and their daughter Grace (Evie Templeton) have had difficulty settling in. When the local harvest festival is ignited, the trio enjoys the festivities, but when Grace is lured away by a masked and cloaked figure, she’s lost in the woods. Rebecca frantically searches for her and pleads to the local parish for their aid in finding her daughter. As the hours tick by, Rebecca’s search leads her into sinister alleyways of the town’s dark past and straight into an unnerving revelation as to who’s behind Grace’s disappearance.
There are no minced moments in Lord of Misrule — from the opening credits to the grand reveals at the climax, you’re getting exactly what’s on the tin. A quaint town with a dark and bloody past is always good fodder for folk horror and the filmmakers deliver. But this ride through similar territory is made unique through a few key elements.
“When the local harvest festival is ignited…Grace is lured away by a masked and cloaked figure…“
While the characters are fairly well-defined tropes within the subgenre, every actor assigned plays their part well. The child actors surprisingly render their performances as equally believable and creepy, with Templeton’s Grace being exceptional (hopefully boding well for her film career). Middleton deftly evokes determination and desperation without ever dipping into overt melodrama or mannerism — though her character’s blind tenacity becomes frustrating periodically, especially at the beginning. And Ralph Ineson seems to be ever-primed for this kind of story since his taking part in Robert Eggers’ The Witch — in Lord of Misrule, his character Jocelyn Abney manages to be intriguing, sympathetic, and repulsive all in equal measure.
While the characters these actors play are nothing that hasn’t been seen a dozen times, the overarching pace and the dramatic tension inherent to each scene are expertly cut by editor Andrew Leven. I might’ve guessed correctly where Lord of Misrule was headed more often than not, but that didn’t mean the road getting there wasn’t visually entertaining and occasionally unnerving — compounded by Simon Rowling’s atmospheric cinematography. But this all is ultimately brought together by Brett Detar’s musical score (and Detar’s music remains the most compelling aspect of nearly all of William Brent Bell’s directorial efforts). While I am uncertain if Detar was the creator of the “All Is As Was” tune, sung at points throughout the film, I wouldn’t be surprised — it’s very catchy and what I remember most clearly about my experience.
Bell has directed works that span the subjective spectrum, all within the horror genre. But Lord of Misrule might just be the most effective outing for the director yet. It possesses an earnestness and polish that affords audiences a morbidly fun and familiar film yet still manages to turn a few expectations on their ears precisely when they need it.
"…good fodder for folk horror..."