August, a retired missionary, has elected to take care of his sister's five-year-old daughter, whisking her from the surprisingly tender care she received in a brothel, of all places. This decision largely stems from his guilt, as he might have been a primary cause behind his sister's career in porn. He followed her around everywhere with a video camera after their parents died, videotaping her every move as she grew closer to his friend, Charlie, and started down the path to becoming "The Princess", her stage name. Her daughter, Mia, suffered from an environment filled with sex, violence, and drugs, a world that ultimately claimed her mother. After August spends some time with Mia and sees what's happened to her, he decides that all remnants of "The Princess" should be purged from the world -- including the company that produced her content.
Let's take a moment to discuss the art style before going further. Anders Morgenthaler blends anime structure with its growingly common jerky movement, reminding me of Paprika and the segments from Kill Bill in ways. It mixes computer-generated elements like cars and such into the hand-crafted animation, which can be rather striking when it's playing with a broad array of colors. Life pumps into each and every entity in Princess, especially Mia and her toy bunny, Multe, which isn't an easy feat within the lurid content on display here -- used to sketch out almost non-filmable content. To add a very strange, off-kilter rhythm to the film, it also tosses in healthy chunks of low-grade camera footage that captures August as he films his sister, a technique mostly done to reflect on their past in an intriguing way. It's discombobulating and a little wacky at first, but grows more effective as our sensitivity weakens.
The front half of Princess, however, is a convoluted mess. It drops us in the thick of August's exit from the clergy without weathering us to the idea, asking us to grasp at straws to make sense of its flow. Mia's mentally-contorted mannerisms mix oddly with August's disposition following this, rarely giving us glimmers as to why she's acting in this fashion. Moreover, things just simply don't gel during the front-end establishment period of the film, leaving us with a handful of disjointed snippets including home video footage, car wrecks, and Mia's somewhat quirkily charming mannerisms, all of which follow a barrage of pulp-style pornography at the opening credit montage. Though moving at a premeditated pace in narrative, the briskness of its brash, severed tone is more unsettling than delve-worthy.
Then, something curious happens -- Princess corrects itself and turns a broad chunk of its core into a taut, visceral exploration of revenge that can actually be empathized with for its evolving characters, not just watched for the sake of bloodshed. August starts a crusade that's essentially against the porn industry, though what we care about is the vengeance he's earning for the damaged little Mia. And, boy, does he wreak havoc on them, making his way up four steps -- similar to the violence "The Bride" exerts on Kill Bill's snakes -- with slicing and dicing reminiscent of a conflagration of Oldboy's rough-and-tumble brazenness with the tender guidance of Leon: The Professional as he teaches Mia about how to defend herself. Remember, again, she's five. Mia's reactions to everyday activities are still troubling and hard to believe, such as her offer to be the "whore" amid a group of kids playing house, yet the tenderness that develops between her and August amid them evens this disbelief out.
At this point, Princess zones in on justifying its meddled beginning by gelling the brutality together with intriguing character development; however, it comes to an explosive, downcast, uncompromising conclusion that opts to preach instead of satisfy, and it leaves a very sour taste in the mouth. Dour endings can be potent and intriguing, a personal favorite when paired with the proper tone; however, the acid-wash sensation from all this emotion-driven, emphatic drive from August concluding on a sour note makes it feel like we've been dragged through the darker recesses of a child's sex-fueled manipulation with very little justification. With that, we're back to where we started -- estranged and yearning for Princess to be more.
Video and Audio:
Though sporting some problems with ghosting and other interlacing issues, Princess actually looks strong in its 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen image. Colors are the biggest beneficiaries from Palisades/Tartan's treatment, as vivid, tightly constructed colors all across the rainbow are plastered across the screen. Lines of detail through the drawings are strong, though the image is, in itself, a bit blurry to begin with. Aside from those quibbles, it's a stable and strong rendering of some rather striking animation.
Available in both Dolby 5.1 and 2.0 Stereo tracks, the difference can certainly be heard between the options. Princess' surround option leaps back to the rear speakers in heavy fashion, keeping ambiance flowing throughout the entire picture through elements like rainfall, glass crashing, and musical cues. The sound effects, however, leave quite a bit to be desired. A car crash earlier in the film is extraordinarily weak, showcasing a very rigid shelf in the sound effect. Though distortion doesn't crop up, it's still contained tightly within the sound stage. Verbal clarity is strong, though, and the stage stretches out quite a bit, making for a sustainable sound option.
Tartan's legacy with light special features for some of their releases continues with Princess, as all we've got is a Trailer.
Though it sounds promising based on its concept and carries a visual flare, Princess starts out on a chaotically bumpy path in telling August and Mia's story of revenge. It gains control of its crazed visual and dramatic flare after a patch of meddled nonsense, building a vein of melancholy character development amid a parallel streak of violence that's heavily engaging. However, it all implodes into a conclusion that, in so many words, ratchets back to dissatisfying and disheartening confusion. It's worth a Rental for the central chunk of material it gets right, though the climax of its efforts delivers disappointment in spades.