[Review] LORD OF MISRULE (2023) Folk Horror Feature Lacks Originality But Still Entertains

Director William Brent Bell’s U.K./Irish feature Lord of Misrule (2023) will feel quite familiar to folk horror aficionados like yours truly. While many films in the subgenre involve a stranger in a strange land scenario — often city dwellers finding themselves in rural areas — and that is certainly the case here, the screenplay by Tom de Ville and the resulting on-screen product recall previous efforts such as the classic The Wicker Man (1973) and the BBC television series Play for Today episode “Robin Redbreast” (1970; sometimes considered as possible inspiration for The Wicker Man) without adding much new to the mix. Still, solid performances and a fine-looking presentation make Lord of Misrule worth a watch.

The plot involves Rebecca (Tuppence Middleton), who has moved with her husband Henry (Matt Stokoe) and daughter Grace (Evie Templeton) from the city to the small village of Berrow, where Rebecca is the new vicar. The family attends an annual festival that includes the ritual driving away of an entity named Gallowgog from the village, which will guarantee a bountiful harvest. 

During the festivities, Grace goes missing, and in the following days, Rebecca senses that something is afoot while Henry feels that the couple should just let the local police handle the matter. Meanwhile, town elder Jocelyn Abney (Ralph Ineson), who played the titular character at the harvest festival and is no stranger to having a child gone missing, insists that Rebecca’s God won’t be helpful in aiding in Grace’s safe return.

Folk horror offerings range in how much backstory viewers receive regarding the secretive occurrences in their mysterious settings, but few go into as much exposition as Lord of Misrule, and while intriguing elements are in play, the film occasionally slows down the action to make certain that viewers know the full history of Berrow’s dark side, to the point of explaining exactly what is happening in paintings rather than letting the visuals themselves do the work.

Middleton makes for a fine, sympathetic protagonist and Ineson is also strong as a grieving man who rails against her, and although the supporting players all turn in solid work, the film is saddled with clichéd characters such as the skeptical husband, the creepily clothed red herring character, and the locals who act just oddly enough to tip off that something is not right.

I had a fun time with Bell’s Orphan: First Kill (2022), which did everything it could to entertain thanks in large part to all-in batty performances and lots of credulity straining in its plot. With Lord of Misrule, the director reels things in for a darker, more serious experience. He does a good job at the helm, working with keeping the pacing at a decent clip and building to a fine third act despite the aforementioned exposition issues. He invests Lord of Misrule with an eerie ambience throughout — captured effectively by cinematographer Simon Rowling — with both the daytime scenes of Berrow and the dark, hidden places of the village and its sylvan surroundings. 

For viewers newer to folk horror cinema, Lord of Misrule should offer plenty to keep them captivated. More seasoned fans of the subgenre will find much of the film familiar and perhaps even derivative at times, but it does serve up enough positive qualities to recommend it to this group for a watch, as well.    

Magnet Releasing will release Lord of Misrule in theaters and on VOD on 

December 8th, 2023.

3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

Joseph Perry
Joseph Perry fell in love with horror films as a preschooler when he first saw the Gill-Man swim across the TV screen in "The Creature from The Black Lagoon" and Mothra battle Godzilla in "Godzilla Vs. The Thing.” His education in fright fare continued with TV series such as "The Twilight Zone" and "Outer Limits," along with legendary northern California horror host Bob Wilkins’ "Creature Features." His love for silver age and golden age comic books, including horror titles from Gold Key, Dell, and Marvel started around age 5.

He is a contributing writer for the "Phantom of the Movies VideoScope" and “Drive-In Asylum” print magazines and the websites Horror Fuel, Diabolique Magazine, The Scariest Things, B&S About Movies, and When It Was Cool. He is a co-host of the "Uphill Both Ways" pop culture nostalgia podcast and also writes for its website. Joseph occasionally proudly co-writes articles with his son Cohen Perry, who is a film critic in his own right.

A former northern Californian and Oregonian, Joseph has been teaching, writing, and living in South Korea since 2008.