Indie Spotlight - The Butterfly Queen

Friday 9 June 2023

Plot: A small-town cartoonist and their vagabond best friend have to steal back a sketchbook from The Butterfly Queen's nightmare dimension.

Full synopsis: Five years ago, best friends Casey and Robin parted ways. Casey wanted to draw cartoons and take over their grandparents sheep farm, Robin wanted to leave town and never look back. Now, five years later, Casey and Robin find themselves (against all odds) chasing a teenager through a magical, monster-infested forest, struggling to regain Casey’s stolen sketchbook so that they can get the hell back home. Trouble is, The Butterfly Queen wants the sketchbook as well, and A) she’s clever, B) she’s desperate and C) she makes the rules.

Ahead of it's UK debut at SOHOME Horror Pride June 29th-July 2nd 2023, I am shining the spotlight on a very heartfelt queer story; The Butterfly Queen. The film follows best friends Casey and Robin, recently reunited and thrown into the dangerous world of The Butterfly Queen, where they have to navigate portals, strange creatures and the Queen herself in order to get back home. 

I had the opportunity to watch an early UK screener of the film ahead of it's UK debut at SOHOME Horror Pride June 29th-July 2nd 2023. A fully independent project, SOHOME describes the film as a « startlingly moving and gloriously garage fantasy expedition to the heart of sapphic solidarity » and it has won Best Feature at Chicago International Indie Film Fest 2022, among other awards. 

Casey (they/them) played by Kade Pintado (they/them) is a budding cartoonist who is desperately trying to sell their work to save their farm. Robin (she/her) played by Sophia Anthony (she/her) was desperate to leave small town life behind but now she's back when something on her travels makes her think of the friend she left at home. When Casey's sketchbook is stolen, along with their hopes of raising the money to save their farm, Robin must help them get it back. Along the way they meet Ash, who lost their friend and is trying desperately to get them back (they/them) and The Queen (she/her) who has her own agenda to follow, both roles are played by Despoina. 

Directed by Liam O'Connor, The Butterfly Queen combines science fiction and horror and really throws you in at the deep end with this twisted tale. In what starts with a sequence of scenes featuring friends Ash and Luca, we also get our first look at the titular character, and admittedly I was a little confused by the interaction and some of the opening felt a little disjointed but this didn't last long and all of my questions were answered in time. The story feels a lot more linear from then on and we meet the main characters of the story, Casey and Robin, best friends in high school though admittedly feeling the strain of life pulling them in different directions, something a lot of people I'm sure can relate too. Already well established is the theme of friendship and conflict, this only continues throughout the film.

The costumes and set design are a real highlight of the film for me, the stylistic choices made up for some shortcomings in other areas. The story takes the main characters from one real world location to what is seemingly another, the team behind this project have done a great job at making you feel immersed in what you realise isn't the world that Casey and Robin came from. The Butterfly Queen herself is particularly well put-together in an eerily beautiful way and it's obvious a lot of care was put into the designing of the other inhabitants of this world.

The ambition was there for the fight scenes, and there is a very cool moment where Casey draws their weapon, both in the conventional way and the quite literal way of drawing a picture of a sword and a real one taking it's place, but the fight that follows could have done with a less is more approach. However the acting as a whole is commendable and the emotional climax to the film is one of it's strengths, both Kade and Sophia play their parts as friends believably and with a great deal of heart. 

So in conclusion; gay and non-binary people can have paranormal adventures too -finally! I think this is something that masses fear when they hear about a character using pronouns, that rather than a person just being their authentic self, that it's going to be their whole personality, and while neither are wrong, normalising the use of pronouns in media is always a step forward, this film does that without hesitation. It's easy to see how The Butterfly Queen has already won awards and I both hope and believe that the UK audience watching the film later this month will think so too. If you want to learn more about The Butterfly Queen you can follow the projects instagram here and watch the trailer on YouTube now. 

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