After a ‘30 years war’, most of Europe is devastated and the people are suffering from famine and plague. Krabat is a 14 year old German boy with no family left and no hope of a good future. He has a dream about a mill with 11 ravens sitting on posts, and 1 post left empty. A voice calls him to the mill so he journeys there and finds an old man who takes him on as one of his 12 apprentices. They work hard at the mill and even practice black magic, which their master teaches them.
Krabat is befriended by one of the apprentices, a young man called Tonda, whom he looks up to. He also meets a young woman from the nearby village and falls in love with her. After a series of tragic events, Krabat comes to realise that all is not as it seems at the mill, and it may not be the safe haven he dreamt of after all. Has he gotten in too deep or will he be able to escape before it’s too late?
In this film, Krabat is at first tempted by the power and sense of community at the mill. He wants to make a better life for himself after the war, poverty and losing his family to the plague. He works hard at the mill and in his training, eager and willing to succeed. However, things take a sinister turn after he suffers another great loss. This seems to clear Krabat’s mind, as if he had been under a sort of spell or misapprehension, thinking he had a good life at the mill. He becomes determined to find out what is really happening and attempt to leave.
Krabat and the Legend of the Satanic Mill is based on the 1971 German novel The Satanic Mill by Otfried Preußler. Directed by Marco Kreuzpaintner, it stars David Kross in the title role. Kross appeared in The Reader (2008) as the younger version of Ralph Fiennes’ character Michael Berg and can next be seen in Steven Spielberg’s Warhorse (2011). Christian Redl (Downfall) plays the master in charge of the mill and Daniel Brühl plays Tonda. Brühl impressed as the main character in Goodbye Lenin! (2003) and has also appeared in Hollywood films such as The Bourne Ultimatum (2007) and Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds (2009).
These three main characters are strong, with the actors giving some good performances. However, the minor characters, including most of the apprentices, aren’t as impressive. They lack any impact or emotional attachment and seem to blend together, meaning it’s often difficult to tell them apart and to remember what they’ve done previously in the film.
Krabat has some beautiful cinematography, especially when the natural landscape fills the screen. It also has good special effects, most notably the transformation of the apprentices into ravens and back into human form again. The story is interesting and original, however the film seems to take too long to build and ultimately the audience isn’t rewarded with a big payoff. There are many questions left unanswered with regards to the true purpose of the mill and the mysterious cloaked figure that makes rare visits. The film needed to be more dramatic and exciting. It lasts for two hours, yet there is only one scene with real action in it, a fight with some soldiers in the nearby village, and this features little actual physical combat as the apprentices use telekinesis to attack their opponents.
Krabat has great potential even though the film doesn’t fully realise it. It fails to explore some interesting story elements and is a little slow on pace. However, it focuses really well on the themes of temptation; with the lure of black magic and power, and friendship; with the sense of brotherhood and companionship Krabat experiences. It’s an enjoyable dark fantasy that has a Grimm fairytale-like feel to it and effective performances from the lead actors.