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Warchief (2024) Review

Warchief opens with a raid on a village by a band of orcs. We don’t see the band of orcs though, just the one who we see in silhouette hefting a giant sword before the camera cuts to a long shot of the village erupting in flames. Not exactly epic, but not too bad for what it is, either.

Making any kind of period film on a low budget is asking for trouble, getting the costumes and props right is neither cheap nor easy, The Siege of Robin Hood is a great example of how badly they can turn out. Writer/director Stuart Brennan has made a couple of these, The Necromancer which was set against the Napoleonic Wars, and KIngslayer which takes place during the Crusades.

His film Wolf, which pits Roman soldiers against wolf men, was a fairly good example of something that’s even harder to pull off, a low budget historical fantasy film. The audience expects creatures and magic, both of which tend to be expensive to pull off, stretching budgets even thinner and frequently ending up looking like they were shot at a local Renaissance Fair.

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What we see after the prologue certainly looks good enough, a trio of warriors, Orion (Stuart Brennan), Griff (Rosanna Miles, This Time Tomorrow, The Grimleys) and Arlo (Michael Kinsey, Three Day Millionaire, Nails) escorting a cowled Messenger (Michael Lambourne, Cashback, The Railway Children) who bears news for the king’s ears only. That doesn’t stop Arlo from trying to get him to reveal it, though.

It doesn’t take long before trouble, in the form of a group of plague victims, finds them and Arlo is killed in the ensuing fight. The survivors, hearing the orc Warchief (Mark Paul Wake, Mr. Self Destruct, Plan Z) calling to his soldiers, make haste towards their destination.

But even as the Warchief slashes his way through all between him and the trio, the biggest threat to the kingdom is hiding in plain sight.

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Brennan delivers a decent storyline that covers the genre’s essentials without getting overly complicated or dipping into mythos that would take lots of long monologues to explain. He gives the viewer warriors, magic users and monsters, human and otherwise, and lets them have at each other. There are the expected intrigue and double crosses as well, but they’re kept to a minimum so as to keep things moving along.

What does slow Warchief down are several flashbacks to Orion’s life in his village before he became a Guardian, and to his training and the various pieces of wisdom that were bestowed upon him by his instructor. It’s clear how some of these scenes tie into the film’s main plot line, but others simply felt like padding.

For its budget, Warchief is a fairly ambitious film, and on occasion that does come back to bite it on the ass. The weapons and armour look fairly decent not, as in one film I recall, the Vikings wore leather vests with “Harley-Davidson” noticeably imprinted in them. The makeup for the plague victims is simple but effective, and the orc Warchief and Shaman (also played by Brennan) both have decent Warcraft style makeup. The other orcs are less detailed and kept in the background.

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The gore is mostly practical, with some CGI blood mixed in. Where the film really takes a hit though is the CGI used for Stonehenge, Woodhenge and Seahenge, which is basically Stonehenge on a beach. Along with the ending, I didn’t expect a major Lord of the Rings style battle but ending right as the war is about to start feels like a cheat nonetheless, those are my major complaints.

If you keep its budget, and the limitations that come with it in mind, Warchief is a perfectly acceptable ninety minutes of blood and thunder fantasy. I just hope if there is a sequel, they get enough of a budget to give us at least one major battle.

Warchief is currently available on Digital Platforms in the UK via Icon Film Distribution. Lighthouse will release in it Germany this March. And if you’re looking for more films like this, FilmTagger can suggest a few titles.

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