August 10, 2018 Dragon Mountain (Movie Review)
Independent Fantasy film is not something we hear about often. The genre typically demands elaborate costumes, scenery, and mythical creatures that require very costly CGI. Shooting a Fantasy film on a budget is no easy task, but that is exactly what High Octane Picture’s Dragon Mountain does. Released to VOD on August 7th as well as scheduled for DVD September 4th, originally titled The Dwarves of Demrel and directed/co-written by Chris Raney, Dragon Mountain does suffer as a Fantasy film from its limitations, but succeeds as a compelling character drama.
For starters, potential viewers should know that there is very little actual dragon in the movie. Perhaps that is why the word was not in the original title, but all the dragon we get is a long fly-over the mountains while the narrator gives us the basics of the story. The dragon is of surprisingly good quality for an independent production and likely where a good amount of the budget went.
The story focuses on a group of dwarven miners who become trapped deep inside a mountain after a cave-in, and their struggle to think of a way out amid dwindling supplies, oxygen, and morale. There are also other dwellers within, human and not. The true conflict is between the characters while they race against time. Life experience as well as politics and social tensions are what shape the opposing views the dwarves have, and divisions run deep.
The dwarves are led by Brenn (Robert Morgan: Hacksaw Ridge 2016, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales 2017), who seemingly has a poor set of qualities for a leader. He is brash, selfish, reckless, and bitter. He is joined by Odryd (Brent Bateman: Boardwalk Empire series, Touched with Fire 2015) who is a compassionate and thoughtful family man, but lacks the decisiveness and gusto needed to lead, and Calcas (John Hutton: Lincoln 2012, Juncture 2007) who is older, wiser, and the most secretive of the group.
Brenn has an instant dislike and mistrust of Calcas. We learn this is because of the latter mostly living with humans, and because all out war between the two races is imminent, his mistrust might not be wrong. A wounded human found and each dwarf’s reaction to her is an important moment for these characters, as is their reaction to an unforeseen danger later on. Both of these moments and others serve as meaningful steps in the character arcs.
Dragon Mountain takes place entirely within the mountain – a limited area but used to maximum efficiency. Because we do not see any of the outside world or beings, we rely on the dialogue between the dwarves to paint the picture of the world and times, which is rife with racial and economic tensions between dwarves and humans. This is done quite well and the performances really give it weight. All three dwarves are excellent: we can feel and understand Brenn’s resentment despite his flaws, Odryd’s almost childlike optimism and nervous faith in the others, and Calcas’ pensive wisdom. Most of the tension is between Brenn and Calcas, but all three dwarves are perfectly cast and they are the glue that holds everything together.
Additionally, the camerawork is generally good but there are some abrupt cuts at key moments such as a tense fight and some of the cave-ins. The filming limits make this movie barely a Fantasy film in the traditional sense. Yes, there are dwarves and there is somewhat of a steampunk element to the humans, but this is essentially a character Drama that does not feel like fantasy despite that. That isn’t a knock on the film.
Dragon Mountain is very well-written as well as acted, and other independent writers should take note of the character development in it. The dialogue has no wasted moments, and characters go through meaningful changes that never feel contrived or unauthentic. This is Raney’s debut work, and while he might not have made the Fantasy film he wanted to, he is certainly a writer who understands the craft, and knows how to get what’s needed out the actors. This story could easily work as a small stage play.
Dragon Mountain is limited by the budget from being an epic Fantasy, but is also free to focus on what really matters in any story because of this. It will no doubt disappoint those who are looking for an action-packed Fantasy film, but if one cares to indulge a small, contained story with quality writing and excellent performances, then Dragon Mountain is worth your time. For these reasons, CrypticRock gives Dragon Mountain 3 out of 5 stars.