Toronto International Film Festival

If you're going to evoke the black arts in a movie during the on-going Harry Potter saga, you might want to pack a little more magic in your duffle bag than "Krabat" does. This fantasy film from Germany indulges in a curiously underdeveloped bit of Teutonic medievalism to no real purpose. Since it is based on Otfried Preussler's novel of the same name, a "classic" in Germany schools that reportedly has sold over 1.8 million copies worldwide, the film from 20th Century Fox in Germany, should open big there, where is has an October 9 release date. Other markets will be tepid at best.

In the middle of the 17th century, amid the catastrophic Thirty Years' War, a poor orphan named Krabat (David Kross, will be in "The Reader" with Kate Winslet) stumbles across a mysterious mill in a remote valley. The place is run by a gruff, one-eyed tyrant who calls himself the Master (Christian Redl). Krabat readily agrees to room and board in exchange for an apprenticeship with other young men who labor in the mill. But relationships among the boys are edgy, hazing being the spirit of the day. It soon emerges that the Master is -- gasp -- in league with the devil.

That old black magic comes in handy when a handful of pillaging soldiers show up in a nearby village. But the price for such powers evidently is the death of one apprentice each year to keep the old man fit. No wonder everyone's so edgy!

There is a village damsel to serve as Krabat's love interest, a best friend (Daniel Bruhl) whose brutal death galvanizes Krabat to action and a scene or two when the lads, transformed into ravens, soar over the valley. Even the grim reaper shows up, looking pretty much as he would at a Halloween party. What all this lacks is any purpose.

The Harry Potter stories re-imagine old tales of witchcraft and magic in contemporary terms. "Krabat" though feels positively 19th century. It is even unclear what the tipping point is in the confrontation between the Master and his callow apprentice. Is the "power of love" all it takes to upend dark magic?

The production benefits from an appealingly rustic countryside but the special effects and fight scenes -- virtually one and the same -- are B-movie grade.

Production companies: 20th Century Fox of Germany, Claussen+Wobke+Putz Filmproduction, Krabat Filmproduction/SevenPictures Film, B.A. Production
Cast: David Kross, Daniel Bruhl, Christian Redl, Robert Stadlober, Hanno Koffler, Charly Hubner, Moritz Grove, Tom Wlaschiha, Paula Kalenberg.
Director: Marco Kreuzpaintner.
Screenwriters: Marco Kreuzpaintner, Michael Gutmann.
Based on the novel by: Otfried Preussler. Producers: Jakob Claussen, Uli Putz, Thomas Wobke, Jakob Claussen, Bernd Wintersperger.
Executive producers: Gabriela Bacher, Christian Balz, Nick Hamson, Lars Sylvest.
Director of photography: Daniel Gottschalk.
Production designer: Christian M. Goldbeck.
Music: Annette Focks.
Costume designer: Anke Winckler.
Editor: Hansjorg Weissbrich.
Sales agent: Bavaria Film International.
No rating, 120 minutes.