Saw

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A horror movie that gave rise to a series of increasingly brutal follow ups, Saw was the benchmark of pushing the envelope yet retaining a story. Shot on a small budget and completed on a quick schedule, director James Wan and writer/ actor Leigh Whannell created a film that was grisly yet very well executed and with more psychological underpinnings than what followed. 

Two strangers, prominent surgeon Dr. Lawrence Gordon(Cary Elwes) and photographer Adam(Leigh Whannell) wake up in an underground bathroom. They are both chained to pipes and between them is a bloodied corpse holding a cassette player and a revolver. Both men seem to have no recollection of how they arrived in this dank, disused place. Soon discovering that the room is filled with clues and objects that may be useful, the two men use the cassette player to listen to the messages left. A gargled voice explains that Lawrence’s wife Allison(Monica Potter)and daughter Diana have been kidnapped and will be killed if Lawrence doesn’t kill Adam by a certain time. Adam is urged to escape, though it seems the only way to do that is to saw off his foot and crawl to hopeful safety. 
Soon memories start coming back to Lawrence who realises something awful about their predicament. Him and Adam are part of an elaborate and disturbing game set up by The Jigsaw Killer(Tobin Bell). He is a man who puts people who don’t appreciate life in horrifying situations involving torture to see how much they want to survive. As time keeps ticking by, we also witness a former detective named David Tapp(Danny Glover) who had previously runs in with Jigsaw, becoming dangerously obsessed with finding him. Both scenarios promise much in the way of horror and brutality for everyone involved with a killer twist.

Debuting director James Wan made a splash with Saw and its clear to see why. Wan possesses a keen sense of what unnerves the audience and a hold over a gloomy sense of style. Setting the film largely in one location was a great idea that paid off, with the flashbacks setting the scene even further for us in a gradual fashion. The cold,  washed out colour pallet adds to the grimness of Saw; bathing events in an uneasy hue that makes your eyes almost readjust to the bleakness. Certain comparisons can be drawn to Seven, and that’s quite a movie to take influence from. Saw however does it well and has its own twisted agenda going for it, so it is far from a copycat of the masterful aforementioned movie. Though later films would up the gore to excruciating levels, Saw itself is a bit more tame. There is definite gore and much unpleasant imagery to behold( like one unfortunate victim of Jigsaw in a maze of barbed wire), but it’s often shown briefly or in ways that don’t display everything. Take for instance when we see a victim of Jigsaw with a reverse bear trap strapped to her head. Instructed by the madman to retrieve the key to release her from sudden death, she must brutally kill a sedated man and find the object in his stomach. It would have been easy to make it a full on bloodbath, but Wan chooses to speed up footage and only display various parts do that our imagination does the rest of the work and makes us picture the horror. It’s one of many scenes where you see bits of the gore but it’s largely left up to us to visualise what is happening in the story in that particular grisly. 
Once the film opens up in narrative terms, it feels more expansive and puzzling with the history of characters explored after what seemed like such a straightforward premise. Granted the set up is simple but effective, but Wan and Whannell are clearly interested in playing with the formula as well as injecting some pertinent questions on the nature of morality and desperation. Saw isn’t without its flaws( sometimes the script shows that it’s from a novice and a few times things can move too quickly to focus), yet this shouldn’t detract from a creepy as well as horrifying film that knows how to get under your skin. It’s hard to forget the clown like puppet that acts as the terrifying mouthpiece for Jigsaw, uttering the now infamous line “ I want to play a game”. This moment and visual has become synonymous with the film and rightfully so as it’s chilling. One of the best elements in Saw is the score from Charlie Clouser. It has an industrial influence that hums away with an electronic pulse that underscores the mounting terror of the film. 

Cary Elwes and Leigh Whannell head the movie as the imprisoned men. Elwes is all trying to remain calm under pressure with a seemingly sensible and arrogantly strait-laced head before really cracking up, while Whannell in an early acting role is the more showy and in your face, never seen that still for long. Occasionally both actors go a little overboard( especially Whannell in a few stretches), but what still remains is good acting as we buy into the shared terror between them that can’t be denied. Sure no Oscars are coming their way for this, but they are acceptably good in their given parts and sell a lot of the horror we witness. They must be commended for holding our attention as the people who are basically on screen the most from start to finish. 
Danny Glover is suitably intense as the obsessed and verging on full breakdown former detective who provides the other half of the story and an axe to grind with Jigsaw. Ken Leung provides more backstory to the case as Glover’s parter in investigation and the two work well off each other. Michael Emerson, with his large eyes and uneasy demeanour, has us on edge with his delivery of a man caught him the game but not in the way you might think. Monica Potter on the other hand is just required to be terrified and not much else, as her character doesn’t have much in the way of development. Props must be given to Shawnee Smith for her one scene that truly traumatises; the reverse bear trap one where most of her acting is through her eyes and they evoke such a feeling of desperation and visceral pain it’s astounding. Despite limited screen time and mainly just the use of his voice, Tobin Bell creates one of horror’s most memorable villains in Jigsaw. That voice will send unending shivers down your spine and it’s down to that and Bell’s embracing of the twisted philosophy of the character that you buy into it.

A creepy and nail biting horror that is both stomach churning and psychological, Saw is a definite recommendation for horror fans out there. 

The Conjuring 2

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A successful spine chilling sequel to the first hit film, The Conjuring 2 continues with genuine scares, atmospheric events, inspired by the investigations of paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren. This time it’s the Enfield Haunting that is explored and it delivers on both the scare front and having a depth that can often be missing in horror movies.

It’s 1977 and in a council house in Enfield, London, the Hodgson family lives hand to mouth. There is harried single mother Peggy(Frances O’Connor) , who tries to do her best and her four children. When not contending with poverty or ridicule at the hands of either school kids or others, something strange begins for them. Following Janet( Madison Wolfe) playing with a makeshift ouija board, seemingly supernatural things begin to happen. She begins sleepwalking and communicating with something angry that claims to be a former occupant of the house. This is followed by objects being thrown about the house and terrorising the family in an abundance of ways. Terrified, the family flees to their neighbours and away from were the haunting originates. Meanwhile, paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren( Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) are taking a break from their jobs, following their encounters in The Amityville house a year before. Lorraine was put through the mill when conducting a seance and terrorised by a demonic nun figure who predicted the death of Ed. Still reeling, Lorraine has taken time away to spend it with her husband and young daughter. Yet it’s not long before news of unexplainable events in Enfield reach across the pond thanks to a media circus in England. The Warrens being experts in the field of the supernatural and haunting are asked to assist in investigating the unusual phenomena. After her experience a year prior, Lorraine is very reluctant to get involved in another case. Eventually, she and Ed travel to Enfield to act as observers and possibly help. Though they said they’d just observe, it becomes clear that Ed and Lorraine will have to really take on this force of evil as it gets more menacing. Upon entrance into the residence, Lorraine senses something deep and dark. The second oldest child Janet,seems to be the one most affected by the supernatural occurrences out of the family, leading to Ed and Lorraine investigating why the entity is using her as a conduit. The Warrens realise that they are up against an immensely evil being that seems to take pleasure in torment and may in fact be something relating directly to both of them. It’s up to Ed and Lorraine to fight this malevolent spirit that threatens to terrorise all in its path with no end.

Horror maestro James Wan is directing once more and his imaginative flourishes and ability to really generate fear in an audience is in huge supply once more. Wan is gifted in how he blends real feeling for characters and putting them through all manner of terror. An attention to characters and suspense building is what I really dig about this movie. Among all the scares, there is depth to be gleaned and relatable moments, especially pertaining to Ed and Lorraine. They are a fantastic couple whose open minds and devotion to each other is really amazing to watch as they compliment each other so well. The Conjuring 2 ups the stakes by making the main form of terror feel more personal towards the Warrens. There is the dual threat of a figure that takes the form of a nun that predicts bad things and the seemingly evil spirit of an old man who once lived in the Hodgson house. Both are the stuff of nightmares and really get under the skin whenever they appear. The nun especially has one very goosebump inducing scene in which she toys with Lorraine and it’s a doozy of a moment as it gradually begins to really unnerve the dedicated medium. Plus some sequences really stand out, in particular Janet sick at home and experiencing the full force of the ghost and Ed conferring with a possessed Janet in a one shot that obscures her. This visual trick is a nifty one as even though our view is blurred, you can see little differences as the demonic possession carries on and begins taunting Ed with inhuman glee. It doesn’t show us everything, but knows the trick of showing us enough to keep you on edge. It’s old school horror style at its finest. And speaking of style, the cinematography of moody blues and unusual camerawork really help us feel unsettled yet fascinated as we join this investigation. The colour scheme really highlights the period and setting, with the Warren’s providing the light that is unwavering through the darkness of their discoveries. And people may being skeptical about how true these events are, which is interestingly portrayed here as if it knows they’ll be naysayers. Amusingly, there are areas of the film that actually examine this in the form of investigator Maurice Grosse( Simon McBurney) and skeptic Anita Gregory( Franka Potente) but regardless of your belief or disbelief in the supernatural , you can’t deny that it isn’t one eerie and chilling film. The main flaw with The Conjuring 2 is that it does feel a bit overlong. Mind you, with that being the only real niggle with the film, I can’t find much fault with anything else on display. The score is appropriately nerve shredding in the best way there is, with low sounds and sudden jolts the order of the day. Plus, you get great periods of silence that truly maximise the tension and force you to keep your ears peeled for anything changing. 

Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga head proceedings with commendable and believable performances. Wilson is dependable, amiable yet equally as adept in bringing home the serious nature of the job, while Farmiga is graceful, quietly forceful and tenderly beautiful as the gifted Lorraine. The chemistry is a big highlight and what makes us truly care for these people who are clearly devoted to each other and stalwart in their belief to do the right thing. Frances O’Connor is subtly devastating as the vulnerable single mother going through hell with her children; she truly comes alive with fear and terror as events spiral against her thanks to the great acting from O’Connor. Madison Wolfe really gives it her all as the besieged Janet and it’s amazing to watch such a young performer really hold the attention with a performance. She manages to be both very sympathetic and very alarming depending on whether she’s herself or possessed. Whichever side she’s portraying , Wolfe truly delivers fine work that is very memorable. Simon McBurney and Franka Potente, although assigned more supporting roles, at least get great moments as people on opposite ends of the believer spectrum.

Mixing creepy horror and human drama, The Conjuring 2 is an excellent sequel that features fine acting, eerie scares and a classy sense of horror that doesn’t go for hack and slash( instead opting for psychological terror). You won’t be having sweet dreams following this chiller.

The Black Cauldron

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Often forgotten in the wide spectrum of Disney movies and more frequently than not misunderstood because of its willingness to be dark, The Black Cauldron is in fact a rather excellent animated fantasy film.

In the mythical land of Prydain , Taran( Grant Bardsley) is a teenager who works as an assistant pig keeper with his guardian, the wise Dallben . Taran is a dreamer with ideas of being a warrior, but is often naive and foolhardy. One of the pigs he takes care of by the name of Hen Wen gets special attention, which Taran doesn’t understand at first. Though it becomes clear why Hen Wen is treated with such care when Dallben reveals a secret to the curious teenager . Hen Wen has the power of clairvoyance which puts her in a dangerous predicament. The ruler of Prydain is The Horned King( John Hurt), an evil demon who has his eyes set on discovering the mythical Black Cauldron. If he gets his hands on it, he can raise an army of the dead that will aid him in truly taking over the world.  fears that The Horned King would use Hen Wen to unearth The Black Cauldron and act out his diabolical plan for domination. sends Taran into hiding with Hen Wen, but Taran’s immaturity leads to Hen Wen being kidnapped by The Horned King’s minions. It’s up to Taran to rescue the pig. After infiltrating the castle inhabited by The Horned King, Taran helps Hen Wen escape but himself is captured. Thankfully along the way, he meets a host of characters who either aid him in his journey to stop the barbaric villain. There is the plucky Princess Eilonwy(Susan Sheridan), washed up and unlucky bard Fflewddur Fflam( Nigel Hawthorne) and unusual, fawning creature Gurgi( John Byner). Throw in dragon like creatures, three marsh witches and a group of underground fairies and the stage is set for adventure. 

There’s a rather epic feel to The Black Cauldron that’s reminiscent of The Lord of the Rings, and the two share a few similarities. A certain grandeur is here that adds levels of majesty for what it a film that’s really overlooked. I hope with this review I can bring The Black Cauldron to more notice among movie fans. While underrated, The Black Cauldron is far from flawless. At points, the tone can get a little scattershot and not quite know what to do with itself. Plus, some of the attempts at humour fall a bit flat and feel old hat. The story itself is standard swords and sorcery, but that shouldn’t be held against it because this movie is unabashedly dark and not afraid to be strangely mature and horrifying. Overall though and despite little foibles, it’s an undiscovered dark gem of a film that deserves a second chance and a new audience to appreciate what it was going for. The small quibbles shouldn’t detract from a Disney film with an overt difference and one that is often forgotten. When it goes for the creepy and menacing factor it definitely succeeds, due in no small part to the beautifully eerie animation and particularly The Horned King. The colours are moody and more subdued than most of Disney’s output, but is technically beautiful in their bleakness and sense of foreboding, with just enough light to bring hope. Scary and unnerving sequences abound in The Black Cauldron, it was after all the first animated film from The House of Mouse to revive a PG certificate upon release. Chief among the spooky and nightmarish scenes is the army of the dead. Anyone who has seen the film knows exactly which sequence I’m referring to and it still holds up as very disturbing and visually dazzling and dizzying. I’ll admit, The Black Cauldron is one of my favourite Disney films and mainly because it had the idea to go for something more grown up and not just pandering to little kids. The great Elmer Bernstein contributes a soaring, moody and wholly appropriate score that fits the fantasy like a glove. When the score hits the eerie heights, it’s really a thing of chilling beauty that doesn’t ignore the more rousing elements of the film.

A voice of largely English and upper crust voices bring their characters to life, though sometimes it can be a little too posh. Grant Bardsley is appropriately curious, adventurous and scrappy as our hero, while the soft voice of Susan Sheridan provides warmth and courage to the Princess Eilonwy. Nigel Hawthorne brings out distinction and humour as the bumbling bard swept along on the journey after being rescued from the dungeon; his voice is a case of it being amusing that he speaks so well and is so unlucky. John Byner uses an eccentric yet lovable voice to give life to the wild creature of Gurgi, who more often than not speaks in rhyme. He really gets the ups and down of the character well, showing both a cowardly nature and a growing loyalty. The voice you’ll remember the most though is the deep, gravelly tones of John Hurt as The Horned King. His voice booms with a menacing aura of authority and is truly spine chilling to hear. Without him as the voice, The Horned King wouldn’t work as a truly evil villain. Thankfully, the voice of John Hurt truly brings the monstrous demon to life to honestly scare the living daylights out of the viewers.

While immensely dark for a movie from a company marketed towards children, The Black Cauldron is definitely that but also a rousing fantasy adventure that maybe quite mature and shocking but has enough to make it a film that needs some re-evaluation.

A New Feature

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Movies are obviously a big part of my life, but so is music. I have spoken about music in the past and even reviewed albums and analysed lyrics. But I’ve decided to bring more music discussion to my blog, which will include posts about my favourite music artists and reviews. Hope you’re all on board with this idea. The primary focus of my blogs will still be movies, but music shall also feature. This is part of me getting back on track with blogging again

Checking In

My appearance on the blogging front has been sporadic I know. But with the stress of lockdown, lack of inspiration and my Grandma’s passing, it’s been tough. Thankfully, I’ve scheduled myself to get back into blogging again. That means I’ll be reading your blogs and commenting( hoping that they come though properly) and writing once more. I want to my extend my support to everyone out there and say I’m here for you. So in the coming weeks, I’ll be back to how I was. 

Session 9

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A very unnerving and underrated psychological horror film, Session 9 knows how to chill the audience and craft a compelling story populated by flawed yet fascinating characters.

Gordon Fleming( Peter Mullan) is the owner of an asbestos removal company who is having a rough time of things. He’s recently become a father but doesn’t seem entirely thrilled at this and his relationship with his wife seems more than a little strained. In a desperate need for money to support himself as he starts to become a bit unglued in life, he takes on the job of cleaning out a now uninhabited former mental asylum. Gordon, who is known for his cool efficiency, promises to complete the vast job in just a week. This is despite the fact that the job is actually one that should take a number of weeks. He brings along good friend and resident intense bossy boots Phil,( David Caruso), nasty mouthed and greedy Hank, knowledgable law school drop out Mike (Stephen Gevedon) and Gordon’s green nephew Jeff( Brendan Sexton III) , who has a fear of the dark. Each of them is wrestling with something( a big bone of contention is the fact that Phil’s ex girlfriend is now with the cocky Hank) but decide to just get the job done as quickly as possibly. Unfortunately, that isn’t going to happen as something sinister takes over the asylum As the week goes on, tensions begin to rise between the men as the former asylum begins to take a dangerous hold over them. Gordon in particular comes under immense anguish as his already tenuous situation and anxieties manifest, along with the rest of the crew. In parallel, Mike discovers an old room in the vast building that house cassette tapes of psychiatric evaluations with a former patient named Mary Hobbes. We hear that she has multiple personalities and that something horrifying happened years ago. Mike becomes obsessed with listening to the nine tapes that slowly peel back the horror of the asylum. As we witness the fraying of relationships, darkness and all manner of horror descend on the feuding group and puts them in grave danger, in particular a close to breaking point Gordon.

Brad Anderson is fantastic in the directors chair; he clearly knows how to unsettle without being too in your face and his focus on character development is to be admired. His skills in forming a mystery that takes you along with it while scaring you in sophisticated ways is to be praised too. The running discovery of psychiatric session tapes that bleed into the present and often accompany shots of the crew are mesmerising and keep you glued. Session 9 is a horror movie that has only a couple of grisly moments; Anderson instead discovers fear and shock through the unexplained and mystery surrounding events in true psychological horror style. As I’ve often said in regards to effective horror, you don’t need gallons of blood to scare an audience, just an eerie idea executed to a great level of suspense can do it. And Session 9 more than does that with its chills getting more intense as things progress. 

It’s in the characters, atmosphere and script that Session 9 derives it’s scares with its delving into psychological animosity between the men and how they unravel my a gradually more terrifying series of events. The seething anger, resentments and bruised egos all come through as these men struggle to accept their vulnerable state by using bravado but failing to fully comprehend the horror ahead. An intriguing comparison can be made between the toxic nature of their job in cleaning asbestos and the toxic masculinity that they each exhibit in one form or another. The use of titles to signify the week going along  And one can’t speak of Session 9 without mentioning its location which is in actual fact a real life mental asylum by the name of Danvers State Mental Hospital that is not in use but nonetheless adds to the creepy dimension of the piece. It’s large, looming stature and the effective way that a lot of it is shot in the daytime to further emphasise uneasiness. As the bright light streams through the old windows, it feels very chilling and a reverse of the usual all bad things happen in the dark adage. Granted, scary things do happen in the dark in Session 9( watch as poor Jeff who has a fear of the dark has to run for his life , but the overall consistency of the ambience in daylight really does amazing things for this movie. And it really gets you thinking once you know that the location is in fact a real place where unspeakable things in less enlightened times happened and digs deep under the skin of the viewer. The dissonant, mood-setting score aids the spooky and deeply creepy exercise in terror with the fleeting of a piano and ominous punctuation highlighting the creep actor and raising it considerably.

The relatively small cast is exceptional at displaying the slowly unravelling minds of the characters. Peter Mullan is the big standout with an immensely convincing and harrowing performance as a man on the edge. Mullan possesses a face that speaks volumes about life and experience and that perfectly suits the role of Gordon. You can practically feel his world starting to fall apart and his futile attempts to prove he’s strong shattering as darkness descends on him. It’s a truly excellent piece of acting from the ever dependable Mullan. David Caruso also is memorable as the second in command who bristles with belligerence and a sense of entitled authority. He’s often at odds with the other characters which adds even more to the drama in Session 9. Josh Lucas relishes playing the cocky and sneaky worker who can’t resist rubbing up people the wrong way, while having a get out plan when times get tough. Stephen Gevedon, who is a co-writer along with Brad Anderson, imbues his role with smarts and deep curiosity, while Brendan Sexton III portrays the most inexperienced member of the group with a childlike want to please and be part of something that eventually becomes toxic.

Very spooky and deeply unsettling, with a great emphasis on characters, Session 9 is an underrated psychological horror you simply must watch.

A Tribute to my Grandma

On Friday, I received the news that my Grandma had passed away at the age of 87. She had suffered for a number of years with dementia. She was an amazing woman who I credit with shaping some of my cinematic tastes, along with my late Grandpa. I take comfort in knowing she is at peace now and no longer suffering. This is my tribute to a fantastic woman. I’m dealing with the grief now, but will be back to blogging soon. 

Xena: Warrior Princess Season 5

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After the startling finale of Season 4, Xena swings back into action with its fifth Season, that stands as my second favourite after the iconic Season 3. It’s epic, enjoyable and has almost everything you’d want from the show. Be warned, spoilers may well follow in this overview of the penultimate season.

We pick up as Xena( Lucy Lawless) and Gabrielle( Renée O’Connor) are ascending into heaven following their brutal crucifixion. Following a battle between demons and angels, the two are restored to life by healer Eli . Joxer( Ted Raimi) once more joins them and finally tells Gabrielle his true feelings, which leads to a certain awkwardness between them but once more eases to friendship again. At first, following resurrection, Xena is not herself at all. The memories of being a warlord and her skill in battle are gone. Luckily, once creating a new and improved Chakram that links almost telepathically to her, Xena is back to herself again. Many changes, however, await her back in the land of the living. Chief among these is the fact that she discovers she is pregnant but hasn’t been with anyone in an intimate capacity. Xena still fights when the occasion arises, yet Gabrielle, who herself has honed her fighting skills and ditched the way of peace, is the one who takes up arms more readily this time around. We also have Ares(Kevin Smith) on the prowl, trying to get Xena on side by attempting to sway Gabrielle and those around her. This locks them all in a battle of wills as Ares is a difficult guy to resist, though for once he does seem to be quite genuine in his feelings for Xena. Once Xena gives birth to a daughter named Eve, all matter of evil seems fixated on it. This is because of the prophecy regarding ‘The Twilight of the Gods’; a time when humans will grow tired of Gods and will rise up causing those who have supernatural power to lose such abilities. It happens to Zeus, which angers other Gods who will stop at nothing to rid the earth of this child and sets in motion the aforementioned Twilight. Although Xena attempts to protect Eve, she knows that the God’s won’t give up in their search. With help from allies, she, Gabrielle and trick the God’s into believing they are dead, while Eve is placed in safety. What they hadn’t counted on was Ares really believing them and thinking he has lost Xens, he freezes their bodies. Awakening 25 years later, the duo find things have changed. Joxer is now near elderly and even has a skilled fighter son named Virgil(William Gregory Lee), plus the terror Rome has been through Greece. To Xena’s shock, her daughter has grown up to be a vicious warrior who goes by the name of Livia( Adrienne Wilkinson), and kills indiscriminately like Xena in her brutal past. The big question is can Xena and Gabrielle help reform Livia back into Eve before it’s too late and any more devastation can hit?

At this point in the series, I think producers knew exactly what they were doing and how to do it with a lot of confidence. Not that they didn’t know what they were doing before, I simply mean that obviously after a few years working on a show the formula is definitely set up and ready to fire on all cylinders. And once more we are given excitement, adventure along with depth, humour and character, which can’t be faulted and display the creative efforts of many at some of their finest. These are all things fans know and love the show for and in its penultimate series, it supplies them with this assortment of qualities. The music from the very talented Joseph LoDuca is again a high point . Although for the first half Xena doesn’t fight as much as usual(owing to the character’s pregnancy and the fact that Lucy Lawless was pregnant in real life too), it helps establish how much Gabrielle has learned throughout her travels and aids episodes that are Xena-lite. It compliments both, though it’s a kick to see Xena get back to fighting once more following the birth of her daughter. Season 5 is not flawless but the vast majority of it makes it a favourite of mine along with the aforementioned third season. Like that season, this one just has so much good in it that it’s essential viewing for quality and the atmosphere. The only real flaw is the role of Amarice, a scrappy Amazon who is actually lying that was seen late last season. She travels with the group but I just feel like she’s pretty superfluous to the stories and not really that interesting. Jennifer Sky does her best, but the character is rather forgettable. And some episodes in the middle area feel a bit like filler but are at least redeemed by the main bulk of successful episodes that showcase Xena at some of its most fun and darkly epic.

We open with the sensational “Fallen Angel”, which gets Season 5 off to a flying start. As Xena and Gabrielle arrive in heaven, a battle between angels and demons headed by Callisto. Gabrielle is pulled to hell, while Xena ascends. Soon the switching of roles and possibility of redemption and resurrection appears. The settings of heaven and hell are excellent as are the scores of angels, some very skilled in fighting and the vicious demons with their bloodthirsty intent engaging in intense battles. The episode looks fantastic with the sets for heaven and hell really standing out and backing up the themes at work. Xena transfers her light to Callisto( Hudson Leick signing off in emotional style) in order to save Gabrielle, making Callisto a newly born angel and restoring the good that would have been there if they’d never crossed paths. Its a sublime opening episode that contains action, heart and imagination which are all touchstones of the show. We finish with healer Eli, with the unbeknownst to him help from reformed Callisto, bringing Xena and Gabrielle back to life. Guilt, redemption and vengeance are the starting blocks and go to themes that are always explored well, and they help kick this season off with a bang and a promise of what’s more to come. Another zinger comes courtesy of tongue in cheek “Animal Attraction” with its anachronistic western references and the various facets of love playing out. In it, Xena journeys to help an old friend locked in a battle with her sheriff like ex. Funniest is Xena stopping bickering by announcing her pregnancy, much to the surprise of everyone. The spirit of the villainous Alti returns in ‘Them Bones, Them Bones’. Here she is attempting to corrupt Xena’s unborn child snd bring it into the darkness. With trippy angles and striking imagery of bloodstreams, animals, and lights, it’s a visual feast. Plus. there’s nice tipping of the hat to Jason and the Argonauts, with Xena and Alti’s spirits doing battle as reanimated statues. to I am a sucker for stuff like this and a returning Alti is once more a compelling villain who is devious and a worthy adversary for Xena.

A big emotional and important episode is found in  ‘Seeds of Faith’ .Peace preaching Eli tries to rally the people into waging a war of love against the Gods. Ares doesn’t take kindly to this and Eli dies a martyr at the hands of Ares, prompting consternation between everyone of whether his death meant anything or not. Watching the various reactions to his death is fascinating as everyone is wrestling with different paths of life and which way is correct, sublimely realised and displayed. As an audience, we do finally hear of the impending ‘Twilight of the Gods’ which enlivens events and sets the stage for much more drama. And crucially we finally learn how Xena’s pregnancy came into motion with the now reformed Callisto explaining that she is to be reincarnated and that she chose Xena to be the one who carries her spirit. It’s her way of giving something back to her old nemesis and at this point both women are even and have achieved redemption and atonement for their actions against the other. It is emotional and thrilling to watch. A big standout of an episode in a season thats by and large stacked with quality. Then we have “Lyre, Lyre, Hearts on Fire”, a lively musical episode that stands out and isn’t a carbon copy of ‘The Bitter Suite’ in Season 3. We find Xena, Gabrielle and Joxer out to stop a war brewing over who gets possession of an incredibly powerful lyre. To quell any fighting or further violence, Xena organises a battle of the bands to see who’ll claim it. The addition of modern songs in an old setting is rather inspired and the anachronistic instances are a real hoot. There’s also the sensational and scintillating “Amphipolis Under Siege”, which is one of my favourite episodes so far. It blends drama, crafty action and twisty turns that make it a special treat. In it, the goddess of war Athena( played very well and with an unnerving poise by Paris Jefferson ). It must be said that Athena isn’t completely without heart, she respects Xena yet knows that in order to preserve the Gods she must carry out a heinous act. Anyhow, she mounts a siege around Xena’s hometown, the villagers however are rallied to protect Baby Eve. Twists and turns abound as Xena goes into battle against Athena, with each showing just how skilful they are in the art of manipulation. Ares thinks he has Xena onside but he’s ultimately used by Xena and Gabrielle, much to his chagrin developed what seems to be genuine feelings for the warrior.  I particularly enjoyed seeing how well Xena and Gabrielle played everyone to perfection to protect Eve. The battles are exceptional choreographed and exciting( as is Xena running from flames in an inspired shot)and the personal drama of Xena, plus backup, doing anything for Eve is very involving. Plus, you have to watch carefully to see if you’ve uncovered the subterfuge used which is always quite fun in my book and it’s sneakily done. In short, a fantastic episode that’s fast moving yet still makes time for story, in the show and how on my favourites list. Then there is a sensational run of episodes that are simply dazzling and surprising, chief among these ‘Looking Death in the Eye” “Eve” and “Motherhood” . In ‘Looking Death in the Eye’, a visibly aged Joxer narrates the last adventure of Xena and Gabrielle, before their ‘deaths’. This framing device is suitably intriguing and leads to many twists as the dynamic duo fool the God’s but find themselves inadvertently setting in motion something even more startling. We discover events little by little in a fantastically staged episode that really sets the scene for what’s to come and throws up some cool surprises for the viewer. In ‘Eve’, Xena is in pursuit of her daughter after revealing her identity to her. It’s interesting to watch as it’s a flip of the situation with Hope and Gabrielle claiming she was just an innocent child, the only difference being it is now Xena in the hot seat having to contend with knowledge that her child has grown up to be a murderer. What really shocks is the slaying of Joxer by Livia/Eve’s hands, which genuinely shocks as he does diein bravery thought obviously weakened by age. And who can forget the finale of ‘Motherhood!‘, truly extraordinary and exhilarating viewing as the Twilight begins and Xena takes on the almighty Gods of Olympus.

Our main cast is once more on sensational form having truly grown and shaped their roles, it’s hard to picture any of them being played by anyone better. Lucy Lawless, of intense, blue eyes and oodles of appeal is on hand as the eponymous warrior atoning for her past crimes. She also has the strength and protective love of the character as she becomes a mother who can also kick ass when it’s needed. Xena is a woman of many facets, from tough, sarcastic fighter to smart, emotional woman who is flawed but likeable. You can’t ask for anyone better at getting across all these different angles to Xena than Lucy Lawless. She is Xena, it’s as simple as that. The same can be said of Renée O’Connor, who has charted the journey of Gabrielle from tag along to powerhouse assailant with a heart. Renée O’Connor clearly relishes getting to show more physicality than ever in the part yet keeping hold of a decent enough worldview. She’s more steely and ready to do what needs to be done with a dash of cynicism, while not completely forgetting her depth and understanding. Lawless and O’Connor once more bounce off each other with great ease and conviction. Although his character is often divisive among the show’s fandom, Joxer makes his mark again for the last time courtesy of Ted Raimi. He gives the character both humour and immense depth that we really feel sad when he meets his end. Despite arriving late in the season, Adrienne Wilkinson makes an impact. Kevin Smith does some of his finest work here, shading Ares with a deep brooding and what seems like a genuine love for Xena. It’s nice seeing that he actually appears to care, rather than just the bravado he puts across as the God of War. Playing Livia/Eve, she is handed the difficult task of essentially playing two disparate characters in a short period of time. Thankfully, she rises to the occasion and displays both a vicious cunning and a redemptive desire in her run of episodes, balancing between both personas wonderfully. William Gregory Lee portrays the son of Joxer as someone more skilled than their father but with a similar temperament and humour to match fighting skills. I’m interested to see the development of the newer characters on here, particularly Eve.

Below are my episode rankings:

  1. Fallen Angel – A+
  2. Chakram -B+
  3. Succession – B-
  4. Animal Attraction – A
  5. Them Bones, Them Bones -A
  6. Purity – B
  7. Back in the Bottle – C
  8. Little Problems – D-
  9. Seeds of Faith – A+
  10. Lyre, Lyre, Hearts on Fire – A
  11. Punch Lines – B
  12. God Fearing Child – B+
  13. Eternal Bonds – B+
  14. Amphipolis Under Siege – A+
  15. Married with Fishsticks – D-
  16. Lifeblood – B
  17. Kindred Spirits – B
  18. Antony and Cleopatra – A
  19. Looking Death in the Eye – A+
  20. Livia – A
  21. Eve – A+
  22. Motherhood – A+

Season 5 is a sensational penultimate season of Xena that boasts some of the best the show has to offer, I’m mightily satisfied and looking forward to the last season that awaits me.