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August returns to the big city from years of missionary work after hearing about the death of his sister Christina, who cut her teeth as the famous porn star "Princess". Christina has left behind a five-year-old daughter, Mia, who August finds in the care of a prostitute. August visits the brothel to bring Mia home with him and become her guardian. After seeing how Mia had been treated in his absence, as well as seeing Christina's 'monument' in the cemetery and the exploitation of her image, the rage and guilt finally get to August. He pledges to undo the damage by erasing every trace of "Princess". In doing so, August descends into a brutal and violent vendetta.
Say what you will about pornography. These days, it's certainly not as looked-down upon as it was in its infancy. Still, it's not something that you'd regularly find come up at the dinner table. Danish filmmaker Anders Morganthaler's 2006 film at first appears to present the porn industry as the bad guys, but PRINCESS isn't necessarily about that. It's more akin to something out of Park Chan-Wook's VENGEANCE trilogy, but with a dose of tragedy that becomes all the more overwhelming as the film progresses.
A mixture of primarily hand-drawn animation (with snippets of live-action and 3D animation), PRINCESS has a European style to it that distances it from North American and Japanese styles. With the exception of a few characters, almost everyone is portrayed with a rather unflattering look to them. Even the protagonist, August, has a few rough edges to him that become progressively more apparent as the film goes on. In contrast to this is Mia, who looks downright cute but also more anime-ish with her enlarged face and head.
The plot and film move at a fairly brisk clip. Exposition is revealed to the viewer through a collection of live-action flashbacks and home movies taken by August when he lived with Christina and her boyfriend (and eventual boss) Charlie. It's difficult to judge in these spots the acting, given that everything is in Danish, but you get the sense of emotion through voice expression. Regardless, you do feel for August's plight, as the guy on one hand geniunely cares about his sister and niece, but at the same time harbours guilt from somewhere that the viewer isn't made aware of until near the end of the film.
Complaints? Well, the animation at times isn't exactly smooth, but that's low budget for you. The more pressing problem is that the film has a few plotholes, both small and large. They detract from the film in some ways, but they're largely held at bay thanks to August's situation, which is both compelling and sad at the same time. This isn't a horror movie, but a tragedy. That's not to say that the film isn't without the nasty stuff, as some of the action sequences (particularly the ones involving Mia laying out the punishment) are somewhat hard to watch. That also answers the question of why the film wasn't made entirely of live action footage.
Once the credits rolled, I felt PRINCESS delivered on its tragic story. This wasn't a horror film, nor was it purely an action film. It was part revenge story and part cautionary tale that hit where it counted. While at first glance, the animation may be a little rough around the edges, but the story certainly deserves a look. Check it out if you're looking for something more driven by emotion and story, with a helping of action on the side.
Video: Despite the low budget, the film's anamorphic 2.35.1 widescreen transfer holds up adequately. Colour is nicely represented here, especially when blood starts flowing. Detail is good, though there are soft spots (intentional). The only drawback to the transfer is interlacing, which creeps in once and a while.
Audio: Princess is presented in Danish Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround, with optional subtitles provided in English. Dialogue is clear (albeit a bit hollow), with action from all sides. There's also a Danish Dolby Digital 2.0 track, for those on a budget.
Sadly, the only extra is the film's theatrical trailer with burned-in subtitles. It's difficult to watch this one, as you not only have to keep up with the cuts, but also read the subtitles to understand what's being said. Obviously, it would've been nice to have had a doc or a commentary.
Also included is an insert showing the titles for each chapter stop.
PRINCESS was a nice little deviation from the horror norm, and I was happy to have taken the stroll. While the film isn't perfect, and the DVD is seriously lacking extras, it's still a worthwhile watch.