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Lord of Misrule: Film Review

William Brent Bell’s Lord of Misrule is a competently made but creatively bankrupt horror film that fails to impress despite its intriguing premise.

Evil exists all around us. Though we try to fight back with love and harmony, the lingering spectre of terror will find a way in. As many cultures continue to exist in perpetuity, we begin to take on many stories of their urban legends and traditions. Whether it’s a scary story to keep children safe or even to teach adults a lesson or two in safety, the tales surrounding our urban legends and the evils within them always have a habit of staying relevant. William Brent Bell’s Lord of Misrule is an exploration of evil in the eyes of religion within a small English town that unfortunately fails to impress with its lack of fresh ideas.

Lord of Misrule follows Rebecca Holland (Tuppence Middleton), a priest and newcomer to a small town in rural England. When her daughter Grace (Evie Templeton) goes missing during a festival, a desperate search begins. As Rebecca and the town at large come closer to finding her, dark secrets are uncovered that expose the town’s past. This leads to Rebecca asking herself just how far she will go to save her daughter from evil.

William Brent Bell has been a director of mixed results. While Orphan: First Kill was injected with a commendable amount of trashiness that helped elevate its bonkers storyline, films like The Devil Inside and The Boy aired more on the side of creative stagnation. Unfortunately, much like the director’s weaker films, Lord of Misrule wears its influences of folk horror on its sleeve and unfortunately, never manages to use its influences in fresh ways. 

The thesis of Lord of Misrule is simple. Despite the relative cynicism and disbelief that the social media age has brought to many people, there are many sectors of our planet where stories of folklore are still treated with either respect or fear. Rebecca is a priest in this small British town and while her family are relatively new to this world of folklore, she has an openness to it that the outsiders around her welcome with open arms. It’s clear she and her family are held in high regard by the town’s inhabitants. On paper, the initial start of Lord of Misrule has a solid foundation.

Once the film’s narrative truly kicks off, however, these opening plot threads are mostly thrown aside for your bog-standard psychological horror storyline as Rebecca fights a supernatural threat that those around her interpret much differently. This middle chunk of the film, which is largely filled with our main character constantly being questioned for her mental stability, feels incredibly basic and exactly what you’d expect from this exact form of narrative.

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Ralph Ineson in LORD OF MISRULE, a Magnet Release. Photo courtesy of Magnet Releasing.

Tuppence Middleton’s lead performance acts as a perfect example of how overly logical and mechanical Lord of Misrule is as a film. The character of Rebecca is given practically zero character development that makes her distinct and because of this, Middleton is left with nothing to do. When you mix that with the always-reliable Ralph Ineson who’s unfortunately left with an incredibly generic antagonist role, you’re left with a film in need of a hook. Sure, William Brent Bell directs the film very competently and thankfully utilises its beautiful countryside aesthetic in some scenes quite effectively. The problem, however, is that those moments only last for so long before we’re right back to the beginning with a tedious folk horror narrative to follow.

Lord of Misrule is an unfortunate slog. A derivative and creatively bankrupt film that drags along at a slow pace and lacks a meaningful hook. If you’ve seen one folk horror film, you’ve more than likely witnessed every trick William Brent Bell has up his sleeve for this one. It may be competently made but lacks any memorability to truly make it anything special.

Lord of Misrule will be released in US theaters and on digital platforms on December 8, 2023.

Lord of Misrule: Trailer (Magnet Releasing)
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