YouTube film review: Voldemort: Origins Of The Heir
Mark Harrison | On 18, Jan 2018Reading time: 4 mins
Director: Gianmaria Pezzato
Cast: Stefano Rossi, Maddalena Orcali, Alessio Dalla Costa, Aurora Moroni and Davide Ellena
Watch Voldemort: Origins Of The Heir online in the UK: YouTube
“Enemies of the heir, beware.”
A decade on from the publication of the final Harry Potter book, JK Rowling’s wizarding world is not short on spin-offs. Rowling has revisited her creation with a West End sequel called The Cursed Child and also written the screenplays for the Fantastic Beasts prequel series, the second of which arrives in cinemas this November.
The franchise seems to be enjoying a renaissance, even though it never went away, and into this market comes an unofficial film, Voldemort: Origins Of The Heir, produced by fans Gianmaria Pezzato and Stefano Prestia. The 50-minute movie delves into the backstory of Tom Marvolo Riddle (Stefano Rossi), the man who would become Voldemort, combining book subplots that didn’t make it into Warner Bros’ film adaptations, and original material involving Riddle’s unlikely friendship with three other students.
The four of them bond over their lineage – the four heirs of Hogwarts’ founders, rallying together to live up to their ancestors. We meet Gryffindor’s heir, Grisha McLaggen (Maddalena Orcali), as a grown-up who’s caught infiltrating the Soviet Auror division to retrieve a familiar dark artefact. Under interrogation by General Makarov (Allessio Dalla Costa), Grisha recounts Riddle’s spooky doings on his path to immortality and his desire to be the most powerful wizard that the world has ever known.
The first thing that strikes you about Voldemort: Origins Of The Heir is that it’s an incredibly good-looking film. Produced on a crowd-funded budget of just €15,000, it’s an extremely impressive effort from Pezzato and Prestia. The special effects are good, as is the production design, which borrows from the official films’ iconography when it suits, such as in David Yates’ use of moving newspaper headlines and pictures, but also departs into a more gritty and action-driven aesthetic.
But while it looks good, it’s not necessarily well directed. Pezzato obviously aspires to the visual style of Zack Snyder in the opening duel, but that might have been a tad too ambitious. The result is immediately disorienting for the viewer and looks like a poorly staged shootout with added magical whizz-bangs. Other choices, such as Grisha being hooked up to an IV stand of truth potion, are strikingly nasty, but the film is otherwise so consumed by the minutiae of the Potterverse that the more adult focus doesn’t come off.
It’s been dubbed for English-speaking audiences, which we would never hold against it, but on a technical level, the dodgy dubbing belies the fanmade nature of the otherwise extremely professional production. Lip syncs are slightly off, the volume doesn’t change when characters move around the room, and the voices themselves feel mismatched to the actors on set. The frequent, incongruent close-ups on characters’ eyes while they are speaking might be an effort to leaven this, but it winds up looking slightly off anyway. It’s to Rossi’s credit, then, that his physical performance still stands out. He looks remarkably like a younger Henry Cavill, but he captures the same tics that Ralph Fiennes brought to the older Voldemort and he’s generally the highlight of the film.
Sadly, the story is straight fan fiction, with dialogue to match. In the Potter books, Voldemort’s obsession with his serpentine heritage was kind of what made him the bad guy. The only characters we’re given to root for here are all similarly privileged by their relation to the Hogwarts founders, and the film only vaguely points to an unconvincing tiff between the four unlikely friends as the reason why Riddle broke bad.
Unsurprisingly, the best writing here is adapted directly from Rowling’s Half-Blood Prince, in which Riddle has a fateful encounter with an older woman who has something that he wants. The second it goes off-book again, the script instantly contradicts itself. And so it gathers little goodwill on the way to a galling final twist that aligns the film most closely with Joseph Kahn’s similarly dark Power/Rangers short from 2015.
Voldemort: Origins Of The Heir is an obvious labour of love, made strictly for fans only, and only permitted by Warner Bros. because Pezzato and Prestia have agreed that they will generate no profit from it. With that in mind, the ambition and production value of their film is to be admired, but the flawed story doesn’t find anything new or interesting in a narrative cul-de-sac that the other films bypassed.