Bitter Lake (2011)

Hi all, Nate here with a doozy, so let's just dive right in, ok? As our movie opens, all is not well in the Lord of the Rings-esque Kingdom of Valenor. For the last 12 years there has been a terrible civil war between four rival houses over control of the kingdom and everyone has suffered. Eventually the heads of the four house agree to meet at a neutral site (a sprawling, abandoned country manor at Bitter Lake) and hash out their differences and bring peace to Valenor. The four ambassadors come one day and start arguing and rattling swords from minute one, it seems that bad blood runs deep in Valenor and back-stabbing intrigue is afoot. Let's meet them!

Map of the Kingdom (not to scale?).

Prince Arden of House Tier is the rightful heir to the throne of Valenor and he's here to stake that claim with his blade and his sharp wit.

The Prince.

Lady Belora dan Winters of House Sinnab is here to represent the farming folk of her province, and threaten to use her power over food supplies to get a bigger piece of the pie.


Colonel Raden Drraer of House Osgard is the bloodthristy commander of his Sparta-like society of warriors. He yells a lot, hates chicks, loves to polish his sword (hehe), and is generally unagreeable.

The Army guy.

Careth Dale of House Daneth is a greedy, money-grubbing, duplicitous merchant who speaks with a Jewish accent (really).

The Jew.

The four ambassadors hate each other but they are here to make peace. The main sticking points are power-sharing and conscription rights, and a (sadly large) chunk of the film is taken up with rambling, pointless, Phantom Menace types of arguments over trade rights and currency exchange rates. I applaud them for trying something unique (sorta), but the huge backstory and mythology is info-dumped in just a few minutes. We learn in passing that there are raiders from the South, trade routes to other Kingdoms, High Councils to be reconvened, old blood feuds between ancient kings to rehash, angry separatists looking to revolt, grain prices kept artificially high, lots of stuff that I'm sure (yawn) would be fascinating (yawn!) during the late-middle chapters of some fan-written Tolkien homage epub novel (ugh, so yawn).

Hey, they have chairs, you know?

After calling it quits for the night, the Prince and Lady Belora have a moment alone where we learn that they might have been lovers at some point in the past. This is also rushed and seems more like they felt they had to have something romantic in a movie with a royal Prince and an issued Lady. Note to directors everywhere: You don't really need to have a romantic subplot in every movie. Really, we as an audience won't walk out and demand a refund if your movie is 100% ninja action and gratuitous nudity. I mean that.

I'm not sure how this would even work.

Of course it doesn't even matter because the next morning Lady Belora doesn't show up for the meeting and everyone suspects foul play. The Prince finds her body eventually, hours-dead from a dagger wound. The murder weapon is beside her but it's cleverly boobytrapped with poison barbs in the hilt, which kills off the Prince when he unwisely picks it up. Setting aside his terrible mishandling of primary homicide evidence, that is the single most unique and inventive thing in this movie. I mean that, also.

Finding her corpse.

Down now to the Jew and the Army guy, and after much back and forth insults we learn that the Jew is an imposter, having killed the real Careth Dale as he traveled to Bitter Lake and taken his place. Once at the meeting, he murdered Lady Belora and the Prince (collateral kill) so as to keep the chaos of the civil war going. It seems he's a member of the Dark Brotherhood, a shadowy group of Illuminati types who want to take over Valenor once everyone else has slaughtered each other.

The Jew talks a big talk.

This not-at-all-really telegraphed revelation leads to a one-on-one sword fight between the assassin and the Army guy in a darkened workshed. Well, less "sword fight" than two underpaid actors with surprisingly sharp prop swords trying really, really hard not to hurt each other for this crap movie. I've seen elementary school kids fight with sticks on the playground better. In the end the crafty Jew sneaks up behind the much stronger Army guy and stabs him in the back. Which is fine, all we've heard from that guido made him out to be an arrogant, power-mad, violent, misogynist tool, so not really sad to see him go.

Don't hurt me!

The assassin then goes to meet his Master, the Leader of the Dark Brotherhood, who unbeknownst to him is the now-dead Prince's younger brother! It seems that he (Prince Aelric of Tolver aka Atrius the Darkbringer) has been acting the idiot fool for many years, playing the long game, as it were, in his ultimate quest to wrest the throne from his father and older brother. He hired the assassin to take the place of Careth Dale and murder the other leaders, including his own brother. How Machivellian, but it seems like he actual has (somewhat) noble purposes and a genuine desire to keep the Kingdom of Valenor together and strong in the face of threats both external and internal. Prince Aelric then kills the assassin, which is the first rule of hiring killers, after all. As he kills his hapless underling, the Prince intones that "Trust is a fickle thing.", which is the tagline this movie was marketed with. And by "marketed" I mean "youtube link bulk emailed to random strangers".

The future King.

And with that the movie ends? Wha? Is this a sequel set-up? Googlegooglegoogle, nope, nothing made since then, so just a strangely abrupt end. But wait! There's an after-the-credits scene that I missed the first viewing and only caught by accident on the second run through for screen caps. It shows Prince Aelric, now (presumably) King of Valenor, opening a message he just received. It says, essentially, "Your time is up, trust is a fickle thing.". As the screen goes black we hear a blade sliding out of a scabbard behind him, as an assassin prepares to usher in a new leadership change in the royal castle. Ah, I guess that scene goes with the general theme of betrayal and death, I'll take that.

I kinda want a sequel now.

Technically, the movie is meh ish ok. Filmed at some old Bonapartian-style chateau in France (really in just a couple of rooms), the setting is nice, if a bit sterile and obviously staged with modern props. The camera work is fine, generally fanfilm level but with some nice dolly tracking shots thrown in just to show that the director went to Junior College film school. The editing is just average enough not to be noticeable, though they really should color correct some of those flat, drab interior shots. Overall not too shabby for the budget (which I'm guessing was paltry), worth a watch.

Lots of windows in this movie.

And yes, yes, yes, I know, this is a furry movie, I noticed that right away (on the second viewing). But the suits are excellent, the mouths work and the fur looks real. They eyes don't blink, though, which is noticeable, and the gloved hands could use some more work. I love the legs, which are designed to have that backwards animal look, even if they flop a bit too much when they move. The armor plates look a lot like fake embossed leather up close, but the whole pre-gunpowder Dark Ages look is pretty well done overall, certainly no worse than your typical off-season Ren Faire in Oklahoma City. The ADR voice work is uneven, some characters sound great, others sound like they weren't trying that hard, but the voices match up with the mouth movements better than expected. I'm not here to judge the fetishes of others, especially as the high-end furry crowd clearly has a passion and love for their craft. Who among us hasn't fantasized about having sex with a border collie with gazelle tusks and a fu manchu beard? Right? Anyone?

Or this one. Yes, I'd totally have sex with this. Don't judge me.

The End.

Written in February 2017 by Nathan Decker.

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