Krabat and the Legend of the Satanic Mill is a German film, based upon the book by Otfried Preußler of the same name. This adaptation was directed by Marco Kreuzpaintner, and was originally released in Germany in October of 2008.
Set in the realm of magic and fantasy, Krabat is set in a time after many years of war, where the lands of Germany have been reduced to desolate and bare landscapes. The film revolves around the story of Krabat, played by David Kross, and the calling he receives to leave his comrades and find a specific, magical Mill. When he finds this place, he discovers that it is inhabited by many of young men and one evil sorcerer, known as the Master, played by Christian Redl.
The Mill itself is designed to be, by the Master, a place for the boys to be tested and to earn their right to be masters of magic, like he is. As the story transpires, we discover that there are selfish ends for which the Master houses the boys at his Mill; they are also sacrificial pawns, there to renew the old Masters life energy from time to time. The overall theme of the story here is of how love can provide even the damned with freedom. Daniel Brühls (Inglorious Basterds) character, Tonda, fails in an attempt to be freed by the power of love; but Krabats story is completed with him falling in love with a girl from a neighbouring village and her coming into the mill, requesting and receiving his freedom.
The plotline follows Krabats journey, as he answers the callings within his dreams, to join the Mill and fulfil his destiny. Once there, he discovers that the Mill is made up of young men at work, who learn sorcery under the guidance of the Master. As time moves on, Krabat learns that all of the boys are trapped in this Mill, labouring indefinitely, too scared to revolt or challenge the power in place, and willing to give up their own lives in the pursuit of an unattainable, magical goal. Love is the only thing that can free the boys, yet this is a feeling that terror keeps at bay with most of them.
The film itself is very well made. The art direction is good, the magical effects throughout are largely believable, and the acting by and large is adequate. It is refreshing to see a film being made in a country where the industry is not necessarily booming, being clearly given a substantial budget with which to generate a high standard of production. However, the way that Krabat falls apart is largely with the flimsy and clichéd concepts that exist in the story. The boys are relatively silent with questions as to why they should hand over their youth for little reward and it’s hard to empathise with them because of this. There are many rituals and missions that the boys enact in, year on year, yet we are never really told why they do these things, and, as such, the main plot of the film falls somewhat flat.
It is hard to escape the general feel, when watching Krabat, that the direction is a combination, and an attempt to replicate, the feel of Pan’s Labyrinth and a dark version of a Harry Potter film. The problem with taking this approach, whether or not it was deliberate, is that it is more than likely that it will be completed to a lower standard, as it has been here, and instead of appreciating the novelty of Krabat, you are left reflecting on the hollowness of it in comparison to others.
Tragically, the majority of the acting in Krabat is to a high standard, except Krabat and his new-found love. Seeing as though those two characters are hugely important in the telling of the story, their performances are disappointing to say the least. Kross as Krabat seems very one-dimensional, always moody and confused, but there seems no depth to his facial expressions and he struggles to build an affinitive relationship with the viewer. His girlfriend (who features little in the film yet is willing to risk her life for Krabats freedom) also does not impose herself on this picture, often looking gormless and over directed throughout. It must be said that the rest of the cast do carry the picture well, saving special mention for Redl and Brühl as their respective characters.
Whilst the film is by no means a waste of time, it is hard to escape hollowness with this film. This is probably due to Kreuzpaintner et al, trying to reach too far on limited resources. A stronger actor in the lead role of Krabat may have rescued this film from mediocrity, yet I cannot escape the feeling that the problems are more deep-rooted than that. The magical nature of the film is a great launching point, and is conveyed well; but it seems that the magic in the studio just wasn’t there in the first place.
Krabat and the Legend of the Satanic Mill is out on DVD now – order it here