Friday, February 21, 2014

Unicorn City Review

Independent films are generally hit or miss; they are often made and written by amateur film makers who haven't quite mastered the art just yet. As such, a lot of independent films are overlooked or never seen. Unicorn City (2012) is an obscure little title that ended up having a lot of heart and a remarkably low budget.
Voss (David McGinn) is a gamer who is unemployed and looking for work. After much searching, game developer company Warlocks of the Beach interviews Voss for a management position. He seems a good candidate but lacks evidence of the leadership skills necessary to land the job. Given one week to prove himself, Voss does the only thing a rational adult would do; create a Utopian society for gamers called Unicorn City, where everyone plays their characters in a Live Action Role Playing (LARP) Game. Voss convinces his gaming guild to follow him into the mountains and has Marsha (Jaclyn Hales) a long-time gamer and best friend to document his abilities. However, Shadow Hawk (Jon Gries), Voss's gaming nemesis likes having control over the game and, as much as possible, over the lives of those who play it. It's not long before Shadow Hawk shows up to overthrow Voss' Kingdom and claim it for himself. Things get progressively worse and Voss's geek utopia begins to fall apart along with his hopes at getting his dream job.
While there are a lot of fantasy elements in this movie, it's not actually a fantasy. It's literally a bunch of reality-deprived geeks, most of whom probably live in their mother's basement, pretending to be princesses, knights, elves, and even centaurs. They have obviously homemade costumes to help them enact their fantasies. This is primarily a comedy of errors with some romantic overtones, though it blurs the lines between real life and fantasy. At one point Voss has to save Marsha. While the danger is very much real, they both stay in their LARP characters during the conflict. It's surreal, ironic, and kind of funny.
There are only about three characters in Unicorn City who aren't super geeks. I enjoy my geeky pastimes, but I've got nothing on these ubergeeks. My knowledge of a few Klingon insults pales in comparison to these guys. The movie really captivates geek culture in all of its socially awkward glory without bashing it in any way. The dialogue is brilliant. There are lots of very clever nods to geek culture that will probably go over most non-gamers' heads. The game company Voss is interviewing at is called "Warlocks of the Beach", which is a play on the actual gaming company "Wizards of the Coast", who is responsible for the famous Magic: The Gathering and Dungeons & Dragons games. This isn't to say that only gamers will get these references. Similar to how Galaxy Quest was probably much funnier to Star Trek fans due to all the in-jokes and references, audiences who have played D&D are more likely to get a bigger kick out of Unicorn City.
There's a catchphrase that goes, "Fake it 'til you make it." meaning to imitate confidence so that as the confidence produces success, it will generate real confidence. The purpose is to create a positive feedback loop so as to avoid getting stuck in a self-fulfilling prophecy related to one's fears of not being confident. That is essentially the theme here in Unicorn City. All the main characters have real-life issues they are facing, and they lack the confidence or skills to overcome them. They draw upon the strength they have given their in-game alter ego characters and learn to overcome their real world problems. "You are what you pretend to be," they are frequently reminded. I really like this theme of drawing strength from the fantasies these movie characters have created for themselves.
This is a hilariously low-budget film and it wouldn't surprise me of most of the wardrobe came from clothes lying on the floors of the cast members' bedroom closets. It looks pretty cheap, but since these characters are usually unemployed 20-somethings, it fits really well. There's a common folly in independent films where some shots are held just a little too long and ends up making the shot feel a bit awkward. This happens several times in Unicorn City, but that may have been intentional to accentuate the awkwardness of the bumbling geeky characters who seem to lack much self-pride in the first place. 
Unicorn City is a decent film. It's a fun idea, has funny relatable characters, a good theme, great dialogue, and manages to tell a decent story on a very low budget. It's not without its flaws, though. It features a couple of amateur actors, it slows down a lot in the second act, and features some bland camera work. These are hardly deal breakers, though. Unicorn City's weak points pale in comparison to what it manages to do well. The movie is rated PG, but probably won't appeal much to younger audiences. There's a lot of geek culture involved in this movie, so the geekier you are, the more you'll get a kick out of it. It's on Netflix Instant Play as of this writing, but you can also watch it for free (with commercials) on I thought it was a fun movie, but not quite worth owning a copy of. It is good enough to seek out for a viewing sometime.

Here's the trailer for Unicorn City. Check it out:

Are you a gamer? Are there any table-top RPGs you'd like to see made into a movie? I wouldn't mind seeing a good Dungeons & Dragons movie made. I'd also love to see a Werewolf: The Apocalypse movie. Comment below and tell me about a game you'd like to see made into a movie and why!

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