Directed by Michael Peterson
Written by Andrew Herman and Michael Peterson
Some games, while popular within the circles of their respective fans, are the target of not so subtle jibes from most other people who either do not understand their appeal or actually have a point in venting their annoyance at these activities. Who really knows. The debate rages on. World of Warcraft (seriously, why would anyone keep themselves locked up in their room to play this thing for hours on end?), Dungeons and Dragons (really people? How old are we here?), and, the subject of Michael Peterson’s film Lloyd the Conqueror, Larping. What is it larping? It is what men in arrested develop- ha, I mean, it is ‘live-action role playing,’ wherein individuals dress up as knights and other such medieval warriors and duel with fake swords and whatnot. Might it serve a greater purpose than satisfying one’s own Lord of the Rings fantasies? Lloyd the Conqueror tries to make such a case.
Lloyd (Evan Williams), Patrick (Jesse Reid) and Oswald (Scott Patey) are three single men, somewhere in their twenties without any any seeming sense of purpose in life. They attend community college, taking various literature classes, yet spend most of their evenings playing video games, only showing up for class ill prepared for presentations, much to the dismay of the school’s most difficult grader and all around pain in the neck, Derek (Mike Smith). When the latter fails the trio of aimless youth for their latest academic blunder, they attempt to make an appeal in his office. Derek, a conniving, unforgiving soul, offers them a deal: partake in the next Larping event and they may preserve the C average required to continue receiving financial aid, otherwise they fail the class. The idea sounds moronic but simple enough to the protagonists, but Derek, who poses as a dark lord during the games and owes ulterior motives, needs only one more tournament victory in order to break the previous record, held by Andy (Brian Posehn), also known as a white wizard (and a level 80 wizard at that!), who will come to the aid of the boys. All the while, Lloyd wants to get closer to Cassandra (Tegan Moss), who instructs self-defence tactics to woman. Her worth as a girlfriend may equal her worth as a member of the team however…
Lloyd the Conqueror is a very charming film, relying on a familiar formula but injecting into its world charismatic characters and a sense of discovery which help elevate the film to a degree. Said charisma stems from an tremendously dedicated cast, chiefly Evan Williams, Brian Posehn, Mike Smith and Tegan Moss, who bring a lot of energy to their performances. Williams and Posehn in particular have some terrific scenes in which the older ‘master’ must instruct the new apprentice. Despite his disposition as a grade A slacker, it is somehow possible to care about where the journey takes the character of Lloyd, with the actor Evan Williams primarily responsible for making his role more compelling than it otherwise would have been. Posehn, on the the hand, has a capacity to deliver his lines with a sense of deadpan humour even though oftentimes he speaks of major, earth shattering events within the larping universe, matters which would function as perfect setup for an actual fantasy story, which is of course part of the joke. One can deduce through the performance that Posehn’s Andy has been around the block for so long that his enthusiasm has waned somewhat, although he will still come to the aid of three new pupils if it means putting a halt to the dark lord’s fictional reign of terror. Tegan Moss plays a very different character than in films of this ilk, ostensibly portraying a boy trapped in a girl’s body, which leads to a few terrifically comical moments.
Where the film comes together as a whole, making it a worthwhile experience, is how it handles the insertion of the protagonists into the world of larping. Had the film already established from the very beginning that these fellows were not only slackers and somewhat useless to the world, but also greatly enjoyed larping, then it would have attenuated some of the story’s importance and wit, not too mention make the film too familiar. As it stands, Lloyd, Peter and Oswald know nothing about larping, with Lloyd and Peter needing quite an extended period of time before warming up to the idea of play acting in imaginary warfare. Just as they are introduced into this community previously unknown to them, so to is the audience for whom larping is exotic. Lloyd the Conqueror therefore kills too birds with one stone whilst never harming the overall flow of the picture. The activity is exotic enough for many audiences not to know what larping is exactly, hence the narrative usefulness of having the heroes just as unfamiliar with it. Finally, the larping tournament proves to be the catalyst which enables the Lloyd and his friends to show off that they can be dedicated to, first, a cause, and second, themselves, something which was put into question earlier in the film. They do so by engaging in an frequently mocked game, yet they feel pretty darn good about themselves in the end, thus the film itself shows that everybody can discover a little about themselves regardless of however silly the venue chosen to harness their inner qualities appears to be on the surface.
Much like how the dark lord Derek offers opposition to the forces of good in the narrative, it is not entirely smooth snailing in director Peterson’s film. For one, the jokes become somewhat staler by the climax, as though the movie is running out of gas just a little bit. The more the characters adapt themselves to the rules and aesthetics of larping, the more the picture must rely on pure silliness to produce laughs, which seems to run counter to what the movies was trying to set up at the start, that while larping is kind of silly, there may be something unique about being a part of this community. There is also an excruciatingly forced rift between Lloyd and Peter at one point, the real purpose of which is unclear apart from the fact that this happens in every other film which adheres to this blueprint, so why not here as well (which is not a sufficient reason, but the way)? Finally, the worst sin committed by the movie is putting Cassandra out of commission for the climax. In fact, despite her potential, the movies as a who pretty much destroys her usefulness, as if reinforcing the larping is very much a ‘boys thing.’ She is such a funny, unorthodox character and terrific physical presence that to not only reduce her to being an archer (and yet her hand to hand skills are incredible), but to also injure her before the final event, this after so much buildup, feels like a gross miscalculation.
Regardless of its flaws, Lloyd the Conqueror is a perfectly entertaining piece of fluff. It would have been nice if the film had tried for some new things and respected its sole female character more, but its strengths outweigh its weaknesses. As in the larping community, no one will really get hurt watching this. It’s mostly just for fun.
– Edgar Chaput