Part of the fun in attending festivals like Sitges is the experience of watching a movie without much knowledge about it and what to expect. So, before stepping inside the theatre to watch The Head, pretty much the only thing I knew about it, besides a short synopsis, was that it was the new movie from director Jordan Downey, who made his first steps into the directing business by working as an intern for none other than Wes Craven. Of course, after such a start, it's no surprise that Downey's whole career has been dedicated to the horror genre.
The Head tells the story of a nameless warrior (played by Christopher Rygh) who lives alone in a stone hut and makes his living as a bounty hunter slaying monsters on behalf of the king of a neighbouring castle. But his true purpose is one day to be able to hunt down the monster that murdered his daughter, the only source of joy in his life.
Probably with this kind of plot you're already picturing some kind of horror fantasy epic with plenty of CGI shots. Well, not exactly. The Head is basically a one-man film and mostly shot in a single location. So if the responsibility of carrying the whole film on his shoulders was not challenging enough for Christopher Rygh, he also does it while wearing heavy armour and a helmet that covers his face for the most part of the film. And still, Rygh manages to emerge triumphant of the challenge. Even though sometimes we can only see his eyes, he delivers a solid and believable performance, both as the frenzied warrior lost in his thirst for revenge but also as a loving and caring father.
The film is constructed with very few elements but somehow still manages to feel epic and build a very interesting dark fantasy world. Even though for the most part of the film the action takes place off-screen, we get to see enough glimpses of this world for us to fill the gaps: the towering silhouette of a giant troll walking off in the distance, the shadow of a dragon flying overhead or the walls of a distant castle on top of the mountain. Downey and his skeleton crew succeed in making the most out of the film's low budget, thanks to the film's wonderful visual design and beautiful cinematography work that makes the most of the impressive views and scenery.
But despite all its achievements, The Head ultimately fails to fulfill its promise because, simply, the script is not good enough. The final showdown between the warrior and the monster feels unnecessarily stretched, and even worse, sometimes involuntarily comedic.
Maybe some could fault the film's low budget for this shortcomings, but I don't think that's the case. Jordan Downey actually proves that he can take full advantage of this 'low-fi' setting, both visually and in terms of drama. Still, if only for its beautiful cinematography and its wonderful job in building an atmospheric and suggestive world, The Head makes for an enjoyable but flawed film.