The Kingdom of Var (2019) – An Odd Independent Horror Film

The Kingdom of Var - Movie Poster

Malevolent Dark loves independent horror films. That being said, we looked forward to viewing The Kingdom of Var, written, directed and produced by Nicholas Kleban, under the banner of Skeletonization Films. Nicholas contacted Malevolent Dark via email and was kind enough to provide a screener for review. Nicholas and I share an appreciation for Ken Russel’s, The Devils. Independent horror films are a right of passage, and they continue to seed the industry with new ideas and techniques. Always, remember to support  independent horror!

The Kingdom of Var – 1549

The film begins with the lead character, Sonjia welcoming her friend Ashley to stay with her. While settling Ashley into her room in the basement, Ashely finds an old VHS tape in a cardboard box. The number 1549 boldly stands out on its label. The tape contains a silent black and white Satanic ritual sacrifice. A man stands over a woman’s body, her face obscured as if she is in the witness protection program. Somewhat out of place, a woman with a camera grins malevolently from the corner of the room.

The Kingdom of Var - Var, King of the Varians in 1594
Var, the evil 16th century wizard preparing his sacrifice

Upon viewing the film, Sonja’s life descends into horror and chaos. The act of viewing the film releases the spirit of Var, a 16th century, time-traveling wizard and cinephile. Once freed, Var needs to complete a ritual sacrifice that will expand his powers and allow him to enslave the entire world. In her descent into madness, Sonja quickly realizes that Var’s conspiracy to take over the world envelopes her entire life.

Elmer Grueber, Security Specialist

Sonja quickly realizes that everyone she encounters secretly worships Var. A couple of crazy characters stand out from the crowd.

The Kingdom of Var - Elmer Grueber's Security ID
Elmer’s Grueber, Yarda Securities extraordinaire

Even after watching, it remains uncertain as to how serious this film should be taken. Exhibit 1, Elmer Grueba. Elmer Grueba is a campus security guard. Sonja first meets Elmer as be patrols the streets outside a party that she attends. The first clue, Elmer’s identification as a Yarda security guard. Starting with the mustache, Nicholas Kleban can’t serious. I love the callout to Lucio Fulci in the University’s name. Always tip your cap to the masters!

Further making the point, Elmer Grueba says, “We’ve had some reports of illicit narcotics being transported by a young lassy, just like yourself, in her VAGINA!” As awkward as the line was, I had to rewind it and play it again, laughing both times.

The Kingdom of Var - Director Nicholas Kleban captures a great shot of his lead
For the most part the cinematography looks flat, but here Kleban catches a great shot of his lead

Gorghoulia the Magnificent

At one point, Sonja’s date takes her out to dinner and then a show. As she sits nervously in the crowd, her date explains that the performer’s name is Gorghoulia the Magnificent. Gorghoulia headlines a horror themed magic show where he magically removes the organs of a living assistant. Those familiar with deep-horror history will quickly see the parallels with H.G. Lewis’s The Wizard of Gore (1970). Nicholas Kleban again tips his cap to the masters.

The Kingdom of Var - Elmer Grueber and hist WORMS!
Elmer Grueba and his WORMS!

The Kingdom of Var, the Critique

Independent horror films often present us with a mixed bag. Every once in a while there is an wonderful gem, other times, not so much. Unfortunately, The Kingdom of Var falls into the later category. I do not say that lightly as I can imagine how hard making any film would be. However, to that end, the film simply fails to meet critical levels of quality.

Of the bigger issues, the cast struggles mightily. Kelban’s main character, Sonja, played by Vida Zukauskas struggles to emote. Her performance feels flat and lifeless. In her defense, she possesses a very intriguing look about her that I found very interesting. Unfortunately, these traits did not outshine her reluctance to act. In other tactical mistakes, Shawn van Every looks ridiculous trying to portray a 16th century time-traveling wizard while clearly displaying tan-lines from a wife-beater shirt and Oakley sunglasses. Of the cast, Sarah Swerid gave one of the better performance as Sonja’s friend Ashley.

 

The Kingdom of Var - Nicholas Kleban capturing another great filtered shot
Nicholas Kleban makes great use of framing and filters in this shot

For the most part, the cinematography feels hand-held and flat. However, Nicholas did manage to capture a couple really good shots. Periodically, Kleban’s use of color filters added an interesting element to the film. The audio quality of the film suffers as well. The low-budget “air” of a consumer grade microphone saturates every scene.

The film did have a few moments that were enjoyable. I caught at least one jump scare as Sonja wakes up to find a woman hiding in the corner of her bedroom. Furthermore, even though the these hits are few and far between, the film has a couple of funny lines. “I farted on your steak, and who’s this skank”, come to mind. When one of the Varians marvels at Elmer’s visibly throbbing case of gonorrhea, Elmer exclaims, “Yup, and WORMS too!!!”.

I liked the end credit-scroll. I felt like the font, and the music was very well done. In fact, had that music been more effectively used in the film, it may have improved the tension of some of the scenes.

The Kingdom of Var - Var the evil time traveling 16th century wizard
Var the evil time traveling wizard, tan-lines and all

The Kingdom of Var, The Score

Malevolent Dark will not be scoring this film. To be honest, it doesn’t right to saddle this film with an objective score in the midst of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Evil DeadClearly, The Kingdom of Var is a different class of film and a star rating would not accurately reflect where Nicholas is in his film career. However, The Kingdom of Var is not a great movie. It struggles to free itself from poor performance and weak technical execution. Yet, as an independent horror film I am glad that I watched it, if for no other reason than to support the art of the independent horror film.

I encourage others to do the same in order to provide constructive feedback to the creators. It’s the only way to keep independent horror films alive.

Nicholas also sent a copy of the press kit for the film. At todays rate of exchange, the $43,000 CAD budget for the film translates to about $37,000 USD, so we are not exactly talking a lot of money here. To put in perspective, Evil Dead (1981) enjoyed a budget of $400,000 back in 1981. Paranormal Activity (2009), clocked $15,000 production, but $215,000 post production. While the latter is more comparable in approach, The Kingdom of Var tells a much more ambitious story.

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