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Recurring Cast: Sophie Skelton, Duran Fulton Brown, Nick Cornwall, James Malpas, Christopher Dane, Richard Zemen, Grace Parry
As far as web series have gone, I don’t think any have captivated me quite as quickly as Ren: The Girl With The Mark. Set in a fantasy universe, the set design and costume department have had so much loving care put into them that as soon as the first few frames settle onto the screen, you totally believe that you are in this mythical world, rather than being treated to an independent movie studio, playing Lord of the Rings. It is an incredible achievement for independent film productions, another example that despite being a part of the web series movement, a medium not quite mainstream as of yet, the crew still treat their project as a professional venture. Not one aspect of recreating Ren is done with half a heart. It is a testament to every member of Mythica Entertainment, who have performed outstandingly here. Unlike the other major fantasy web series I watched recently, AFK, who took some gorgeous but empty New Zealand locations and dressed up their characters to convey the fantasy look, Ren: The Girl With The Mark build their set from scratch. After a while, it becomes clear that the main set is just the one village, but so much thought has gone into creating a bustling, precisely orchestrated community, that the confined setting is forgiven. There isn’t one piece of background dressing that looks done on the fly and each costume adds to the overall canvas that director Kate Madison has constructed.
It has to be said that once that first show-stopping episode closes and the next kicks off, the wonder starts to fade away. It is tricky for a episodic piece of film-making to get by on the visuals alone, as each week, we enter the story more prepared for the well-designed sets. And the story, while clever, engaging and paced well, is nothing too original. And, we are back to the complaint I have about every web series and one that I cannot offer a decent solution for, the episodes are just far too short. There just isn’t enough time to break out of the fantasy stereotypes, each episode confined to just over ten minutes. Ren is the able-bodied girl from a quiet village, who dreams of bigger things and has a heart of gold. She has the stereotypical father figure who holds her back from chasing her dreams for her own safety. There is the mysterious, handsome stranger and the wise mentor figure wading into Ren’s life to tempt her with the chance of an exciting life. Add the age-old military dictator bad guys and you have a pretty standard fantasy genre plot. Even the imagery of a female hero with a bow and arrow is beginning to look a little well worn these days. This is not a complaint to the cast, who perform admirably. Sophie Skelton is a revelation, stealing the show with her easy-going charisma, fiery personality and soft heart. I can’t even criticise the writers who do their best with the limited time each episode offers. It is the same, old story, only with the independent web series angle breathing a fresh lease of life into it. Perhaps the best way to view Ren is seeing the five episode opening season as a pilot for things to come. This acts as a good prequel to a wider story, which makes its lead heroine’s lack of a decent fight scene more natural (her evolution into the badass the show depicts her to be would work well as a second season plotline), and means that the characters, which currently trapped in stereotypes, would have time to break from them and flex the acting muscles we can see they all possess. Essentially, watch this space…
Final Verdict: Stunning set design and a great lead performance makes this season a very watchable affair, even if it is trapped in its little timeframe to develop its universe.