Directed by Neil Marshall
Full credits at IMDb
If you loved The Descent, you’ll...well, that won’t have much bearing on how you’ll feel about Centurion, though both films were directed by the same man. The former was an unbearably claustrophobic horror movie about spelunking and evolutionary deformities; the latter is a swords and sandals epic whose kitschy, postapocalyptic, Mad Max aesthetic would seem to have more in common with Descent-follow-up Doomsday. But Centurion’s most notable feature isn’t its strange make-up—it’s its ultraviolence.
Set in 117 CE England, like a Valhalla Rising prequel, Centurion centers on a gang of ancient Romans (led by Michael Fassbender), a magnificent seven of whom are stranded behind enemy lines after their invading battalion is slaughtered by heathens. As they make their way to friendly terrain, through misty Arthurian forests or across breathtaking vistas, they encounter scenes of startling gore: a midnight urinator takes a sword between the legs; flaming arrows pierce skulls; heads tossed against trees splatter like watermelons. One battle sequence looks like some goremeister’s greatest hits-reel of slit-throats and beheaded heads. And the graphic violence isn’t reserved for battle: our starving wandering-heroes cut open an elk to drink its warm blood and eat the half-digested moss in its stomach.
The point, admirably, is to deromanticize the violence of war: to expose ostensibly valorous sword swipes (say, of a slick flick like Gladiator) for what they really are: acts of horrifying murder, moral or not. Marshall has reached so far in the past he comes out in the present: his heathens are villains, but his Roman “heroes”—proto-Westerners who can’t defeat the local population of the land they invaded—emerge as villainous, too, a bunch of rapists and child killers. There are no “good” sides, only a handful of decent individuals misguidedly fighting for bad leaders, alongside bad men. Centurion isn’t anti-troop. But it’s rabidly anti-war, and anti-authority, too. Grade: B-
Watch the trailer: