Lord of Misrule, Is it A Worthy Homage to Folk Horror Classics?

Jan 8, 2024
Lord of Misrule (2023)  HORROR MOVIE REVIEW .jpg

Lord of Misrule (2023) 

Written by Tom de Ville

Directed by William Brent Bell

Review by: Mark Walker

A desperate search for the young daughter of the town’s new minister.

Rebecca (Tuppence Middleton) is a small English village’s new (ish) minister. While she preaches the Gospel from the pulpit, the village readies itself for its annual festival in which the Lord of Misrule chases an evil spirit from the village. Chosen as the festival princess, Rebecca’s daughter, Grace (Evie Templeton), goes missing at the celebration, and so begins Rebecca’s fight to uncover the truth behind Grace’s disappearance, seemingly thwarted at every turn by an overly friendly yet determinedly obstructive community.

Lord of Misrule (2023), A Worthy Homage to Folk Horror Classics
Creepy kids, that should be your first warning that something isn’t right!

Sound familiar?

Lord of Misrule‘s biggest problem was always going to be the story. It will instantly be compared to The Wicker Man (1973), the absolute grandmother of Folk Horror, which has clearly influenced LoM: Weird Locals? Check. Pagan rituals? Check. Missing child? Check. There are many low-scoring reviews out there for precisely this reason. It must be crap because it is just a rip-off of other films!

To an extent, this is a fair critique, but, in all honesty, genuinely original stories are rare these days, and even “original” offerings will show influence from those that have gone before. So, yes, the influence of The Wicker Man and other folk horror (such as The Ritual) is evident. There are even nods to other classics, such as The Exorcist! 

I also read complaints about the tropes used in the movie, suggesting lazy writing and lack of imagination, but tropes are needed; horror loves them. We all get angry at characters running upstairs to escape their pursuer or staying in a village full of weirdos they should never have moved to in the first place! As frustrating as that may be, it is also what makes us watch. We know it’s wrong; we have seen it before, but the familiarity draws us in. Tropes are essential in storytelling; we need to make sure we use them in new ways when telling them. Lazy copies are a terrible thing, and there are plenty out there, but I don’t see LoM as a lazy effort to cash in on the reputation of other movies; it’s more of a homage.

Whether that is a good or a bad thing is up to you, but I saw it as good.

Lord of Misrule (2023), A Worthy Homage to Folk Horror Classics

Right, rant over…

Although it can be predictable and ‘tropey’ (is that a word?) in places, I found Lord of Misrule enjoyable. The plot twists can be seen from a mile away most of the time. Still, the joy in this kind of story is knowing that nut jobs populate the village and any sensible person would have moved away a LONG time before the festival – thinking we know more than Rebecca adds to the tension. But we also want to see Rebecca get her revenge on the villagers, to save her daughter and deal out justice, much like we all wanted to when frustrating islanders gave poor old Sergeant Howie the runaround.

So the tropes pull us in and get us invested in Rebecca’s plight; we share her anger at people who are clearly hiding something and her frustration as she tries to figure out what. The journey is predictable (because of the influences and the tropes), but the destination is refreshing. Where The Wicker Man chooses a very blunt, unambiguous ending, Lord of Misrule takes a different approach, and I am happy to say I was 100% sure how things would end once they did.

Lord of Misrule (2023), A Worthy Homage to Folk Horror Classics

The cast also does a decent job of drawing the viewer in. Tuppence Middleton is convincing as Grace’s ‘mother on a mission’, and adding Ralph Ineson to any film adds a gravel-voiced level of foreboding that embraces and enhances the atmosphere. William Brent Bell directs the movie with a knowing wink to all those influences and knows what he is getting into. It is a brave and confident director who would take on a story like this, knowing how those comparisons will be made. He deftly manages the balance and juxtaposition of a quaint English village populated by raving nutters hellbent on human sacrifice.

The other residents all played well and added to the unnerving atmosphere around the village. They are friendly and welcoming but with an uneasy air of oddness. For example, George (Anton Valensi) seems mild-mannered and friendly to the point of annoyance, seemingly an ally but one that can quickly turn on a sixpence and exude violence. His daughter, Bryony (Alexa Goodall), one of Grace’s best friends, goes from a shy, scared kid to telling the Vicar to “shove it up her arse” with alarming ease!

The rest of the cast is an odd collection of overly nice villagers who appear to have Rebecca’s best interest at heart but wouldn’t look out of place hanging around with Rowan Morrison’s mum on Summerisle.

Lord of Misrule does an excellent job of creating an atmosphere of unease and weirdness around its characters and story, exactly as you would want from a folk horror. There are elements of the “other” and an exploration of the conflict between God and other more pagan beliefs. There are also elements of the feminine versus the masculine as Rebecca and the Lord of Misrule clash. The film never deeply explores these themes, but there is enough to make the story interesting.

****the paragraph below contains a spoiler, so skip to the next one to avoid it****

I had a few issues, and I questioned character decisions/actions on several occasions. For example, at one point, a character is murdered, and someone who would really not want that to happen stands back and lets it occur without any fighting. It didn’t feel right to me, and while I missed something that suggested why this was the case, I still felt mildly irritated by that scene. I have some thoughts but can’t go into them in too much detail for fear of spoiling.

****end of spoilers****

In the end, the negatives amount to a few minor niggles for me and not enough to put me off recommending Lord of Misrule.

The film retained my attention throughout, with no weary pauses to check my watch! LoM will always suffer compared to other films, but why waste your time? Just enjoy it! I may be slightly biased as I love a bit of folk horror, and it won’t be for everyone (hell, what IS for everyone). Still, if you enjoy watching people rallying against the silence and secrets of a nutty village somewhere in England, you will enjoy Lord of Misrule.

Signature Entertainment presents Lord of Misrule on Digital Platforms on 8th January.

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