Elric (Bryan Ferriter) is a prince of vampires who, over the many centuries of his life, has often fought alongside humans in an effort to somehow unite humanity and vampires for the betterment of both. His father, and his brother Auberon (Nathan Mills), do not always approve, but they don’t get too proactive about it until Elric falls in love with a human. Feeling this a step too far for them to ignore, they decide to punish and imprison Elric, leaving him to rot in a dark hole. Elric is eventually saved by his friends, decades down the line, however, and escapes to what is now Montana, biding his time until he can build up his own army to return to Europe to get his revenge on his family.
This vampiric history is unknown to a group of modern-day environmentalists, however, heading off into the mountains of Montana to see if they can find an explanation for a drop in wildlife in a specific area of the wilderness. Upon arrival, they run afoul of one of Elric’s loyalists, Guiscard (Ryan Pfeiffer), who has grown increasingly savage over the years, which puts the group in the middle of a neverending battle that they didn’t know was being fought. For soon-to-be-wed Dylan (Nick Milodragovich) and Roxanne (Kailey Portsmouth), who also recently learned that they’re going to be having a child, the stakes couldn’t be higher.
Bryan Ferriter’s Crimson Winter sets up an epic narrative that encompasses centuries and multiple continents. It’s a vampire tale, but it doesn’t hang out too long in the woods of the obvious vampiric folklore. They drink blood, don’t age and the like, but they also don’t seem to have any problem being out and about during the day. The film works to establish its own world, and it’s a large one at that, but it also feels like it does little else but establish elements. While there certainly is a narrative thread for this one, it often feels more like a prologue than a first chapter.
According to the film’s Facebook page, this is the first part of a trilogy, which explains why so much of this film feels like back story expansion and set up. For much of the running time of this one, the narrative feels informational as opposed to making too many strides forward. There’s a balance to be found between hearkening back to Elric’s history and driving momentum forward with the present-day storyline, and the film doesn’t always succeed in finding it.
This relates to the film’s pacing, of course, and while the film yearns to establish itself as a wide-arching epic (which to some extents it certainly is), it also feels meandering for what felt like large chunks of time (though, in all honesty, they probably aren’t that large; they just felt that way). While I was interested in where the story was going due to natural curiosity, there were certainly moments where I felt bored.
Also often confused, but that was by design. To anyone who has seen the film, and perhaps stopped watching before it ended because they felt like narrative threads or character behavior and motivations were all over the place, I can attest to the fact that the film does pull it all together in the end. So, it’s okay to feel lost or confused along the way, the film does a solid job of rewarding you for sticking in there, and rightfully so. Had the film been even more obviously expository than it already is, then I’d likely be even harsher in my criticisms of set-up and back story being all there is to the film.
On the visual side of things, the film looks quite good for the most part. It manages to convey numerous different time frames and landscapes convincingly, and the battles are sufficiently blood-friendly (which, considering this is a vampire tale, is apropos). Sometimes the action sequences in the snowy white woods seem off, but that is mainly due to the conveyance of negative space surrounding everyone from any given angle; those on screen can’t help but look small in comparison. Some compositional choices overcome this hurdle, others exacerbate it.
Ultimately, while I didn’t dislike Crimson Winter, I do feel like the most compelling narrative hasn’t really gotten started yet. I feel like I just watched the informational prologue, and now that the world and stakes have been established, we can get on with the real story. Which is absolutely fine if that is the route the filmmakers are going, but I doubt I’d re-visit this film in the future, now that the foundation has been established. In other words, if this wasn’t to be a trilogy, I wouldn’t necessarily be all that impressed with this as a standalone entry.
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