A modern screen version of the 1971 novel ‘Krabat’ (also known as ‘The Satanic Mill’ and later as ‘The Curse of the Darkling Mill’, and previously developed in animated form as Čarodějův učeň (The Sorcerer’s Apprentice)), Krabat is a visually impressive film that evokes a wonderfully dark atmosphere for its players to inhabit.

David Kross is Krabat, an orphan struggling to scrounge together enough for a regular meal in a singing troupe that wanders the countryside in the period following the Thirty Years War and the arrival of the plague.Krabat After having several dreams that call him to become an apprentice in a flour mill, he decides to cast in his lot under a miller known only as The Master (Christian Redl). Soon he will have to decide whether to follow the dark or the light as his mentor Tonda (Daniel Brühl) and The Master fight for his soul.

The most striking success in Krabat is the set design and cinematography that combine to allow a sense of menace and darkness to pervade the entire film. Unprepared audiences may actually baulk at a movie – ostensibly made for children – that is visually so unrelentingly bleak. The tone matches the material, however, and provides for a refreshing change to the homogenised output of Hollywood – the Harry Potter films (apart from Prisoner of Azkaban, which is the only one of the series so far released to even attempt to develop an original visual style) cannot hold a candle to Krabat and they deal in thematically similar material.

Director Marco Kreuzpaintner has created a children’s film that deals in dark themes without flinching, and never tries to downplay the evil that surrounds Krabat and the potential outcomes of the critical decisions he eventually must make. This makes it an experience perhaps better had by older audiences, with a degree of parental supervision also likely to be beneficial.

Performances are adeuqate, with the only standout being Brühl – his Tonda is conflicted and heroic, and Brühl brings just what Kreuzpaintner needed from such a pivotal role. Kross – last seen in The Reader opposite Kate Winslet – is believable in the lead role without ever making the film his own. Redl is asked only to be brooding and unfortunately appears to have been costumed by those responsible for MadEye Moody in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.

There is scant action throughout the film but much of it is presented in a ridiculously hyperkinetic blancmange of shots that make little sense and detract from the otherwise restrained and sombre mood. Why Kreuzpaintner would choose to diminish his film in such a way is unclear, but perhaps reflects the ‘modern style’. Use of CGI is impressive, however, with several sequences quite beautiful to watch.

That the film moves a little bit slowly at times, and finishes with somewhat of a whimper rather than an awe-inspiring action set-piece, actually combine to make this a more enjoyable experience than watching yet another Hollywood fantasy remake. Krabat can be recommended for older children and adults alike.

Rating: 3.5 stars
Review by Mark Lavercombe, 17th April 2009
Hoopla Factor: 3.5 stars

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