NEW YORK -- A cinematic, ethnographic portrait that ranks with anything done by National Geographic in terms of sheer exotica, Andrew Neel and Luke Meyer's documentary explores the mores of a large group of people who participate in fantastical renditions of medieval-style battles. While the subject matter inevitably wears thin over the course of its feature-length running time, "Darkon" has an undeniable fascination and fairly begs for a feature film comedy adaptation.
The filmmakers don't take a condescending view toward their subjects -- that's wisely left to the viewer -- with the result that their effort never takes on the air of cheap mockery. It concerns a group of more than 200 adults who gather every other Sunday in the Baltimore suburbs to enact the fantasy world that gives the film its title. Battling each other on various fields and playgrounds while wearing homemade costumes and brandishing makeshift weapons, the participants clearly relish their momentary escape from day-to-day realities. Needless to say, this sort of activity already has been given a handy acronym: LARP, for "live action-role playing game."
The filmmakers concentrate on a few of the players in particular, including Skip Lipman, a stay-at-home father still bitter over being shut out of the family business. As we learn, Lipman's alter-ego is Bannor, a warrior of Laconia attempting to bring his arch-enemy Keldar of Mordom (Kenyon Wells) to justice.
Watching the extensive footage of the players in action that is interspersed with interviews and scenes of their real lives, it isn't always hard to see why they occasionally feel the need to enter an imaginary construct. The fact that they do so with such undeniable energy and enthusiasm is what ultimately gives "Darkon" its entertainment value.