Under the floorboards mythical creatures await; “SECRET KINGDOM” | FILM REVIEW

Beginning with an intoxicating narration that sets the story on its path (and even sneaking a quote from Leonard Cohen into the first few minutes) “The Secret Kingdom” (helmed by former visual effects artist turned writer/director Matt Drummond) does something special, it takes viewers through a sweet but exciting tale that takes its audience seriously.

Twelve-year-old Peter (a very natural Sam Everingham) moves with his younger sister Verity (the engaging Alyla Browne) and parents into a new home. The house is big and beautifully designed and holds many secrets.

The children go exploring the house and move to the general store across the road. They meet a strange woman called “The Shroud” (Gabrielle Chan) who gives Peter a broken trinket that will lead to their discovering another world called “The Below,” a place filled with creatures and magic.

As the film immerses the children (and the audience) in this fantastic world, the magic of the story and the film’s visuals come alive, the adventure reveals a treasure trove of mystical creatures.

The screen is filled with armored pangolins, clocks with wings, a minx/monkey who gives eye exams, a two-headed turtle who speaks in rhyme and a dragon who is a self-confessed empath proclaiming, “I don’t eat people. I eat my feelings.”

The creature designs are fantastic as is the creation of the mystical worlds. Great care was taken in deploying the film’s visuals, as the director never lets the actors, nor the story be saddled by CGI, technology is nevertheless used to enhance the backgrounds and give life to the surroundings.

“The Secret Kingdom” is an Australian production. It’s also the type of motion picture Hollywood has long ago forgotten how to make.

Director Drummond cast his two young leads for their acting abilities, not just their cuteness. Everingham and Browne are quite natural and engaging, helping to ground the humanity found within the piece. Kudos to Casting Director Marianne Jade for finding child actors this skilled and engaging.

The cinematography is quite beautiful, instead of the darkness that shrouds American-made fantasy films, Drummond (working as his own cameraman) fills the screen with light. The fantastical worlds are bathed in golden hues with the sun always shining bright, allowing the audience to see the stunning beauty of the production design.

“The Secret Kingdom” is a loving homage to the fantasy films of the eighties. In screenplay and design, the picture is the best of Spielberg, Joe Dante, and Terry Gilliam, with the ghosts of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien closely watching, yet Drummond’s work isn’t a collage of homages and exists as its own special entity.

Matt Drummond has created a visually impressive film that is as interesting as it is fun. It all works thanks to a well-functioning story filled with invention and wonder.

Pay attention Hollywood.