Sleeping Beauty (2014)
When a young Prince and his trusted aide learn of a beautiful Princess's cursed eternal slumber, they embark on a journey to rescue her. They must battle an evil queen and legions of undead monsters before she will be free.
REVIEW: In 2014 The Ayslum has already outdone themselves with their first offering; Mega Shark Vs. Mecha Shark is quite handily the best of the “Mega Shark” series. Andrioid Cop was a lean, mean, and great looking sci-fi actioner, that caught me by surprise at how smart it was. Even their less ambitious offerings, Apocalypse Pompeii for example, have been tremendous fun. So when I say that Asylum’s Sleeping Beauty is, without a doubt, their single greatest film to date, and an absolute masterpiece, please believe me.
Directed with great flair by Casper Van Dien (one of my favorite actors!), his directorial debut is an assured and visually dazzling work of art; which I don’t say that lightly. The cinematography maximizes the gorgeous Bulgarian castle and surrounding countryside this was filmed at. The camera motions are quite dynamic, adding vigor and energy to each scene. The editing is precise, with a nice rhythm being found early on, which allows everything to flow nicely together.
The Asylum is no stranger to retelling fairy tales, with the most interesting aspect about each is how they were interpreted - Grimm’s Snow White keeps the proper setting, but reimagines the dwarves as elves and the thrust of the plot being about stealing a life energy-giving space rock, while Jack The Giant Killer (a movie I give a 9/10 to on this very site) is a 1950s British steampunk war film (kind of, sort of), and Hansel & Gretel is a completely modern horror film. Sleeping Beauty is easily their most faithful adaptation, and they were still able to add zombies, a wyvern, a leviathan, and a zombie wyvern! Yeah, this movie is so badass it has a zombie wyvern! God bless the Asylum!
We open with a celebration for the birth of Princess Dawn (Grace Van Dien, Casper's real-life daughter) - her name comes straight from the original story. Tambria (Olivia d’Abo) failed to receive an invitation, and due to this slight, curses the baby to die by pricking her finger on a spindle before her 16th birthday. One of the good fairies, color designation blue, counters the curse by making it a “sleep-like death”, since she’s unable to reverse the spell completely. Tambria then fights the blue fairy, plus two other good ones (pink and white), and promptly kills them. Two minutes in, and we get the main villainess cursing babies, killing fairies, and winning. We start at full throttle and things just keep escalating from there.
Flash forward some years. It’s the night before Dawn’s 16th birthday and a massive celebration is underway. During this, Dawn is asked to dance by a local boy. The boy tells Dawn he has a present for her, and steals her away from the crowd. The present is a gorgeous cloak, and she’s enthralled by it. Dawn asks how he was able to make such a thing, and the boy produces a spindle. No longer fearing for her life, Dawn touches it and falls to the ground. The boy was Tambria, magically disguised, who had intentionally screwed with the kingdom’s calendars, to make it appear later in the month (by a few days) than it really was. She’s a cunning, devious, and awesome character. Tambira takes over the kingdom, but is unable to leave or else her magic will wear thin.
A hundred years later, we meet Prince Jayson (Edward Lewis French), of a neighboring kingdom. His whipping boy, Barrow (Finn Jones of Game Of Thrones fame), has learned from teacher Earlin (Clive Sawyer) how to read, and comes across an ancient parchment, written by Dawn before she fell asleep. Upon hearing of the kingdom’s treasures, Jayson, Barrow, Earlin, and a small band of adventurers and a bodyguard loyal to the prince trek out to save the kingdom from the curse. These adventurers are Jacob (Dylan Vox) and Wilhelm (David Elliott), which astute readers will recognize as the names of none other than the Brothers Grimm! And yes, that is exactly who they are. The bodyguard is Gruner (Gil Kolirin), a massive brick house of a man.
Upon reaching the castle entrance, our heroes need to get across the moat. After finding a still working boat, they set forth… only to be attacked by a levithan! The creature looks good, scaly and slimy in believable proportions and while only a basic design, it’s a cool fight that quickly informs the audience of the stakes. Having lost only one member of their party during the encounter, and taking turns blaming each other for how that happened (a choice I love, because it makes all their actions seem more believable), they are then lead to the gardens before the castle. In these gardens, Tambria scrying their position, sends a horde of zombies to attack. This fight is more chaotic and shaky cam-ed than the last, which is entirely appropriate as there’s way more going on and portrays, visually, the confusion of the characters as well. The zombies are tough to kill, but are a tad slow, so escape is achieved after only a few scraps.
There’s also an amazing twist with Jayson’s true motives, that I won’t spoil here, but it adds an incredible amount of depth to the spoiled brat he appears to be at the start. Lewis’s performance is nuanced enough to pull that tricky situation off. Kolirin is good, noble, and his death is awesomely brutal- “Bring me the bald one, I want to play with his head”. Tambria does in fact play with his head. This movie isn’t afraid to go dark and raise the stakes, but never overdoes it.
Joseph Lawson yet again brings his considerable special effects talent to the CGI here. The design of the wyvern is cool, with only narrow eyes, but bulging muscles and imposing jaws. It’s blended in with the environments quite nicely, and is one of my favorite Asylum creatures. It loses an arm early on, and the fact that it still comes across as a hulking menace just goes to show how much effort was put into it. The spheres of magic, conjured up during spells, look impressive, and when being thrown, seem to have a real weight to them.
Olivia d’Abo as Tambria is deliciously evil. Not really hamming it up, but clearly reveling in the despicable acts she’s allowed to do - she’s menacing as all hell. Casper Van Dien and real-life wife, Catherine Oxenberg play Dawn’s parents - King David and Queen Violet - and A) That’s a gorgeous couple! and B) Their real life chemistry is palpable on the screen, allowing their love and goodness to come across in just a few scenes. As the Grimm brothers, Vox and Elliott are solid and fun additions. Each conveys a sense of adventure loving and wonderment that works with what we already know about them. There’s an urchin named Newt (kickass “Aliens” homage), played by Maya Van Dien (No joke, this movie is an entire Van Dien family affair!), and she’s pretty incredible as a streetwise kid that knows how to survive through the horrors of the cursed kingdom.
The two best actors though, are our leads; Finn Jones has a natural charisma, his strapping looks certainly help, that makes one instantly relate to him. He holds his own during the action scenes, and convincingly conveys his intelligence that, due to his life’s lot, he must keep hidden from the prince. His is a great performance, and I hope he’ll continue working with The Asylum for a long time to come. Grace Van Dien as Princess Dawn portrays such confidence behind her big blue eyes, but never betrays the vulnerability the character must have because of the curse. At the end, when she kisses Barrow to save his life (yeah, the changes made from the classic story are pretty sweet), Grace handles the tough as nails, take no prisoners action heavy moments like a true champ.
While Sleeping Beauty is the most accurate fairy tale retelling the Asylum has done thus far, there are still plenty of changes that, in my opinion, are for the best. Gone is the 'marrying the princess while she’s still sleeping' angle, because...well... ew, gross, and the addition of zombies and monsters never felt forced and allowed for a true classic adventure narrative to unfold. At the end, Barrow brings the still-sleeping Dawn out of the castle, as a kind of collateral. He does kiss and awaken her, but Tambria throws a spell and kills Barrow. She then summons all of her undead creatures, previously killed ones included (thus we get a freakin' zombie-wyvern), and the scene is just as awesome as it sounds! After banishing, and effectively neutralizing the evil curse, Dawn kisses Barrow which resurrects him. I really love how that spell worked both ways, and allowed Dawn far more than just a mere damsel in distress. At the very end, Dawn and Barrow have their own child, Day (another name directly from the original source). Day is wee baby Celeste Van Dien (As stated before, complete family affair!)
The closing credits have the song “When You First Kissed Me” written and performed for this movie by Joseph Metcalf and Michelle Aragon. It fits the mood and tone of the film perfectly, and it’s also a really well done song. Strong voices, solid lyrics, great way to finish off the film proper.
I have been watching and loving The Asylum movies for over a decade, and I have greatly enjoyed watching their evolution. However, even with all the genuinely cool stuff they have been putting out lately, nothing prepared me for the beauty and awesomeness of their version of Sleeping Beauty. The Asylum have a ton of films still slated to come out that I am stoked to see - Hercules Reborn, Sharknado 2: The Second One (obviously), and Bermuda Tentacles, which aired on the SyFy Channel earlier this year but still has yet to hit DVD and BluRay, but in all honesty, I have a hard time believing any of their other titles could beat this out as their strongest, most ingenious, and impressive work for me yet.
Casper Van Dien has created the perfect fairy tale adventure film, and B-Movie or otherwise, this film is brilliant, beautiful, and amazing.