[Fantasia Film Festival Review] 'Legions' is an Intriguing though Underwhelming Demonic Horror Comedy
Whatever your expectations are when you hear the title Legions, exorcise them and banish them straight back to Hell, because I can pretty much guarantee director Fabian Forte’s new film won’t live up to them…
…Having just had its Canadian premiere at the Fantasia Film Festival, Legions is an Argentinian folk horror film centered around aging shaman Antonio (German De Silva). Confined to an institution, Antonio spends his days telling stories of his demon-slaying past, full of regret over the estranged relationship between he and his daughter, Helena (Lorena Vega). When he learns of an ancient demon named Kauraya that hopes to be resurrected through the power of Antonio’s bloodline, he must escape and reignite the magic in Helena before it’s too late.
Forte’s film commits to a classical style of storytelling, with Silva acting as both narrator and hero. Carrying a smooth voice fit for the task, he takes us back and forth between his current attempt at saving the world and the tortured past that has brought him to the point where Helena would rather spend the day at her desk job than ever even think about visiting him. Like so many who have aged into the scars of their soul, Antonio is a man who lives in the past. So much so, that he’s in the middle of putting on a play based on his life with a ragtag group of weirdos who may or may not believe his tales, but appreciate the magic in them. When you’re confined to one place with a future that has nowhere to go, stories are all we have, and in this case, the film speaks to the way in which old traditions are forgotten, the wonder in them replaced by a modern, mundane existence (hence Helena’s corporate servitude).
The strength of Legions is that magic.
Though as vague as the occasionally smoky atmosphere, Legions claws into all sorts of intriguing lore that separates it from your traditional demonic Western movie. We’re given ritualistic exorcisms in the jungle. Children born under blood moons. Telepathic conversations through smoke. Contortionist voodoo. Forte fills the film with ideas that blend folk horror and dark fantasy into a goblet bubbling with promise of terrifying wonder. Yet what could be a satisfying drink is a mere sip that leaves the viewer thirsty for more. Nearly every bit of lore introduced in Legions is left undercooked by the fires of Hell. Much of it simply doesn’t go anywhere. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of you find yourselves lost like the patients at Antonio’s institution, no idea where you’re going or why. For as good as Antonio is at telling stories, it feels like there’s quite a few details missing from this one.
For a long while, Legions seems aimless. We know Antonio has to get to his daughter. We know there’s a demon coming. But just as Antonio is dumfounded at how to use a cellphone, Legions appears confused at how to make the trip as exciting as the destination. Forte infuses a fun sense of oddball comedy to keep the sluggish second act entertaining, such as an actor from Antonio’s play, Eduardo (Victor Malagrino), constantly following him around in a Devil’s costume (a nod at the idea that Hell is never far). Legions has a sense of humor about itself, emphasized by Pablo Fuu’s corny though fitting score. The characters, especially Silva as Antonio, are delightful, establishing a sort of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest comradery. There’s just one problem. Legions is a horror comedy about demons, yet there’s hardly a horned devil to be found.
Outside of a single moment in which Helena spots a shadowy figure by her bed and a few brief flashbacks from Antonio’s past, Legions is demon-less until a third act that comes with too little too late. That’s pretty disappointing for a title that would seem to suggest otherwise. You’ll never be satisfied if you judge a film on expectations though, which is why you need to reign those devils in. But it isn’t just that Legions struggles to raise Hell. The film has about as much urgency as a hangover on a Saturday afternoon. Clunky pacing and a complete lack of any villain (demonic or otherwise) through the second act leaves Legions feeling more like purgatory than a gateway to the underworld. Forte attempts to create a ticking clock with the fact that a red moon is coming, but even that more or less gets forgotten about.
I’m not saying that the third act makes the rest of the film worth it, but patient viewers are at least rewarded with over-the-top hellish carnage. After dragging its talons, Legions finally delivers on what it promises, which is Evil Dead-style demons with a flare for comedy and practical effects that make up for the Movie Maker-level CG seen throughout. Legions is kind of like that possessed body lying there, pale with green goop splattered on its lips, suddenly popping open its eyes and spurting to life. Forte has so much fun indulging in the wilder elements here, that it makes you wonder why there isn’t more of it.
For most of Legions, said Legion is on vacation. Intriguing ideas, adorable (albeit underdeveloped) characters and applaudable effects aren’t enough to resurrect this otherwise underwhelming tale. Those seeking some light demonic horror that’s a little different will get what they want, just don’t expect Legions to summon anything beyond that.
By Matt Konopka