Tara Cardinal’s official IMDB synopsis for her female-led action movie, Legend of the Red Reaper, is:
“It’s been 100 years since The Red Reaper, half human, half demon was traded to the demons by the Teller Witch – her own mother. Rescued by the Reapers, a sacred clan of human/demon warriors, they raised her as their own, even though she was more demon than the rest of them. Abandoned by her mother, at odds with her Reaper family, struggling with her Reaper training, and in love with one man she couldn’t have – nothing was going right for the Red Reaper. She was untrained, untested, and shared none of her mother’s magical abilities. She couldn’t even see the future, her mother’s greatest gift. Until the day she did. And, it changed the world forever.”
Part fantasy adventure, part autobiographical, Cardinal’s Legend of the Red Reaper definitely shows that a female lead can carry an action movie, but, at the same time, it contains small flaws that prevent it from being truly great.
Aella, the Red Reaper of the title, stars in numerous works including comics and at least one novel, as well the movie. Having read Sword Sisters, the prequel novel to the movie, I had a basic idea of her character, but the exact struggles and climax were new, if not entirely unexpected. Ultimately, the movie is about a young woman who doesn’t really belong in any of the societies she’s adjacent to: she’s too demon for the Reapers; too human for the Demons; and too other for the humans! Aella has found someone who loves her for exactly who she is (and it is strongly implied that he is the boy from her memories in the novel), but Eris is the first human king in thousands of years (if ever), and his family and court expect him to marry Lady Indira, a proper human girl with no questionable bloodlines, not the half-wild offspring from Ganesh, the most powerful Demon, raping the Teller Witch. Not all the humans are pleased about Eris ascending the throne, though, and Aella’s sudden acquisition of her mother’s powerful foresight portends dark forces coalescing on the world.
Perhaps the most striking aspect of Legend of the Red Reaper is that Tara and her primary co-stars performed all of their own sword work and martial arts for the fight scenes. While Jackie Chan made the concept of stars performing their own stunts a popular theme for action films, I truly don’t know of many films where so many individuals did so. Some of the film technique glosses over and speeds up fight sequences, but the last half of the movie contains some of the most engaging sword battles I have seen (although, to be honest, I don’t watch a lot of action movies). I particularly enjoyed seeing a woman holding her own against men without having to wear an outfit that looks like it would disintegrate in real battle.
I was a little surprised at how humanoid the Demons looked in Red Reaper, but the make-up placed them firmly into the uncanny valley. I also could justify the appearance readily, because since Demons are capable of breeding with humans they must have certain genetic similarities; however, if you’re expecting a truly alien antagonist, these Demons are not going to fit the bill.
The plot for Red Reaper moves quickly, and while I was easily sucked into the pretty images, I sometimes was a little confused, especially when Aella began suffering from flashbacks. My biggest disconnect occurred during the attack on the castle during Eris’ coronation feast. Somehow, I managed to miss that the panned-out charge was S’Grun’s men advancing on Eris’ castle, so I initially couldn’t understand how fighting had begun so quickly. Other viewers may not have the same problem, but I’m warning you now that you need to keep your focus on the screen during this or you will miss important details!
I had a few small continuity/filming issues with Legend of the Red Reaper, although they didn’t affect my enjoyment of the film at all. First, Aella’s hair color varies from scene to scene between almost pink-red to bright natural red. As someone who has dyed her hair red for many years, I know how this could have occurred; red hair dye is one of the most difficult to keep vibrant, because the color molecule is huge in comparison to blonde, brown, or black. I also suspect that finding a shade to match Aella’s allegedly blazing color was a matter of trial and error. Second, the first scene where I thought we met Indira, the actress had dark hair. In later sequences, she had dark blonde/light brown hair; however, given that I was trying to identify characters, I might have mistaken one of Indira’s handmaidens as Indira. Third, the beheadings were disturbingly bloodless. There was plenty of blood on the fighters afterwards, but I was expecting spurting necks and Tarantino-esque deaths for some reason. Fourth, in the later sequences of the movie, there are artifacts lingering along the extra windows added to the castle, which made it obvious to me that they were probably CG. Again, none of these kept me from enjoying the film, but I was briefly pulled out of the fantasy when I noticed them.
Overall, Legend of the Red Reaper is exactly what it promises to be: an action film with a strong female lead. Not everyone will enjoy being sucked into the world, and not everyone will enjoy the violence and darkness of parts of the plot; however, if you love top-notch sword play and enjoy seeing a grittier fantasy experience, I definitely recommend this. You won’t leave the theater disappointed.
4 Meticulously Choreographed Sword Fights out of 5