Babes With Blades: The Flower of Sarnia

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“Not QUITE what the cover would suggest…”

I’m unsure who the woman is on the DVD sleeve. I can only presume it’s Lady Not-Appearing-In-This-Film. For what we have instead seems to be a real labour of love for British stunt-woman Cecily Fay. Though calling her a mere stunt-woman would be selling her short: she also wrote, directed, starred in, edited and scored this feature, plus did the fight choreography and sound re-recording, while sewing every sequin on the costumes herself. Okay, the last might be a bit of a stretch, but since she is also credited as the costume designer… perhaps not. Hell, even Robert Rodriguez doesn’t have such a large collection of hats, and this overwhelming multi-tasking might help explain why it took close to five years between the start of filming and its eventual release. The main problem is that Fay’s talents, while considerable, are not equally spread.

The issues are particularly apparent in the writing and editing departments. The first is kinda forgivable, and hardly a rarity in low-budget cinema, But I still find myself always hoping for something better – in this case, than an ill-considered mash-up of Star Wars and Gladiator. Azura (Fay) is the last survivor of her planet, Sarnia. She has been captured by Section Commander Sorrentine (Simpson), the ruthless dictator responsible for wiping out Azura’s people, and is made to fight for the amusement of the masses. While Azura plots her vengeance, a small rebellion (very small – like, it has four people in it, tops…) is brewing under the leadership of Viridian (Burniston), and is preparing a devastating strike against the Empire.

The whole SF angle is just now very well thought-out. These people have interplanetary travel, yet haven’t made a gun that takes less than five seconds to reload? I know every non-historical martial arts film has to handle it somehow, but this is close to the feeblest excuse I’ve heard. Given how little the future has to do with the rest of the plot, Fay would have been better off abandoning it entirely, making Sarnia an island instead of a planet, and setting it in the past to wipe out the firearm issue entirely. But worse, still, is the editing. You’d think Fay would know how to assemble an action sequence. Apparently not, for the movie adopts the Moulinex approach of choppy editing, which makes it so much harder to appreciate the skills of the fighters. There is one scene – here’s a GIF taken from it, to give you some idea – which is awesome (even if rather cribbed from Kill Bill), simply because Fay the director steps back and lets Fay the stunt-woman do her thing. It’s just a shame the rest wasn’t shot similarly.

More positively, we have Fay’s acting and directorial talents. The former isn’t much of a surprise, as I enjoyed her performance in Warrioress, and she brings the same sense of conviction to proceedings as the heroine here. You may not believe any number of things about this world, but you can always believe Fay could be the last survivor of her species. The rest of the performances are.. a bit of a mixed bag, shall we say. Some appear to have strayed in from a fashion show at a steampunk convention, but punk veteran John Robb is clearly enjoying himself enormously as the arena MC [I got a vaguely Michael Rooker vibe off him!] 

Given this was also Fay’s directorial debut, it’s acceptably solid. She avoids the obvious pitfalls, and if more functional than stylish, she has clearly been a) around enough TV/film sets, and b) paying attention on them, to handle things. I’ve seen far worse efforts from people with far longer IMDb resumes to their names. However, the bottom line is that you will still need a solid tolerance for low-budget cinema, and all that entails, for this to be acceptable viewing, though accepting its status as an obvious passion project will help mitigate the flaws. And this may be unprecedented, but I almost wish they’d gone for a less gratuitous title and sleeve; they both suggest something I should probably save for when Chris is out of the house, when the reality is considerably more restrained.

Dir: Cecily Fay
Star: Cecily Fay, Michael Collin, Joelle Simpson, Cheryl Burniston

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