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>> Friday, March 26, 2010

Role playing has never been so exciting!
This evening I had the divine honor of being invited to the premiere cast and crew screening of John Johnstone's Dungeon Crawl - his first feature length motion picture (which I was an extra for, hence my presence). I will tell you this right off the bat - I was NOT disappointed.

The film is a mockumentary about five friends who aim to win the the Queen City Dungeon Crawl Championship and reclaim victory from a former teammate who betrayed them only a few years earlier. It took them ten years to even be part of the first Championship and now they only have months to prepare for the next one if they are to claim the revenge they seek.

The team of underdogs is lead by Merlin (Ashton Francis) who's perfected his master skills while staying at home with his sick father (one of the first to play Dungeon Crawl back in the 80's). The rest of his team consists of Merlin's love interest, Sam (Amy Couzens), the hilarious Andy (Dan Willows), his best friend Jerm (Kyle Markewich) and the married-but-hasn't-grown-up Brian (Ed Mendez).

Through a series of interviews we learn what their connection to the role-playing game of Dungeon Crawl is, as well as what their life is like outside of the game. The camera takes us shopping with them, to work with them and to Gothic vampire parties with them. The characters don't always acknowledge the camera nor do they seem to mind the intrusion into their lives - unless of course they're 'cybering' with their online lover.

Going into Dungeon Crawl and knowing John Johnstone personally, my biggest fear is much like that of a parent going to their child's school play. You're excited to see how they do, pumped up opening night has arrived (especially after all the talks and rehearsals), but mainly you just hope they don't embarrass themselves. Happily and quite unexpectedly, this was not the case as the film actually exceeded my expectations.

The acting in this film is wonderful. Every major character was cast perfectly and as per the norm, a few stick out as sctors whose work I'd like to follow closely from this point forward. Amy Couzens fits perfectly into the ' girl next door' role. It wouldn't surprise me to see her in a role where she's the girlie love interest, nor to see her kicking ass in a Book of Eli-like action movie. Kyle Markewich is entertaining and quirky enough he'll undoubtedly follow in the foot steps of such vet actors as Christopher Walken and Steve Buscemi. Markewich isn't ugly mind you - he just has a 'way' about him. However good these two up-and-comers may be, Dungeon Crawl is owned by Dan Willows. His comedic timing is impeccable in this film - as is his large range of emotions. Willows plays the gentle giant of Andy so perfectly he steals nearly every scene he's in because - let's face it - we all root for the lovable doofus with the big heart.

The only thing stopping the film from being near perfect is the back story for the married character of Brian. He's stuck in a relationship with a hypocritical wife who doesn't support his friends or the Dungeon Crawl game. She tells Brian it's time to grow up and he lowers his head like puppy who's relieved himself on the carpet. As a viewer you see this poor guy with this wicked witch and you think 'Boy, I can't wait until he fights back and she gets her comeuppance". Unfortunately it just never seems to come - as if that scene was accidentally cut from the film. A lot of the banter between Brian and wife is funny and it's unfortunate as their plot felt unfinished. It certainly doesn't take away from the main plot or the entirety of the film, but it is distracting.

Dungeon Crawl was written and directed by newcomer John Johnstone. The important thing with an independent film such as this is knowing the limits of your resources. With Dungeon Crawl, Johnstone clearly knew his limits. Based on how well this film was written and directed, there's no doubt Dungeon Crawl was in Johnstone's head long before pre-production even started. Johnstone is a visionary and does for role playing games what Kevin Smith did for convenience stores.

Dungeon Crawl easily snags an open door here and not because I know many of the people who had a hand in making this film. It's a fun, entertaining and ambitious comedy and I hope it gets the recognition it deserves.

*Stills and trailers courtesy of Odd Novelty Productions


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