Poor orphan Krabat (Kross) is drawn to an isolated mill, where the grizzled, eyepatch-wearing Master (Redl) teaches young men in the ways of the dark arts. But magical powers come at a terrible price…
There are certain things you automatically associate with a sword & sorcery movie: dragons; orcs; elves; epic battles. It’s unlikely that a ‘flour mill’ is up there on your list – unless, that is, you happen to have read Otfried Preußler’s 1971 novel, on which this offbeat German fantasy is based.
The meat of the story doesn’t move much beyond the mill (or “The Satanic Mill”, to give the film its Region 2 subtitle), as the fresh-faced, uncertain Krabat is initiated into the art of making flour and, eventually, into the art of black magic. Krabat gradually gets to know the other boys in his dorm, including the kind-hearted, lovesick Tonda (Inglourious Basterds’ Bruhl), the stuttering cook Juro (Hanno Koffler) and the sneering Lyschko (Stadlober), all the while building up an uneasy relationship with the Master – part father figure, part power-crazed demon. The young hero also learns the dreadful price of falling in love, and decides it’s something worth fighting for.
Krabat is a peculiar breed of fantasy adventure. There’s little in the way of characterisation (Paula Kalenberg’s romantic interest is given especially short thrift), and the languid, lugubrious story is a blend of the mundane and the fantastical (supernatuaral highlights include an ability to turn into crows, a night reaper and an invisibility spell).
However, director Marco Kreuzpaintner (Summer Storm) does succeed in creating an atmospheric and often unpredictable fable that feels quite unlike anything seen in recent years. The backdrops, which shift from snow-covered mountains to lush woodland and cornfields, are often stunning, and the CGI is used sparingly but effectively. Kreuzpaintner uses his limited resources in inventive, economical ways, but he wisely steers clear of attempting anything that’s way beyond his budget (unlike Brian A Metcalf’s recent fantasy opus, Fading of the Cries).
The film feels far sillier in the English dub, so make sure you stick to the subtitled version. Matt McAllister
Though Krabat lacks interesting characters or stirring battle scenes, it looks great and possesses an unusual charm of its own.