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Plot: one woman dares stand up against an evil industrialist empire.

The second Babes with Blades feature came three years after the entertaining but ultimately misguided Warrioress (2015). The Flower Of Sarnia was conceived and conceptualized during post-production on Warrioress (2015), and it was to be even more ambitious than the first. Once again everybody from the Babes with Blades stunt team was involved but this time Cecily Fay would not only write, produce, direct, edit, act, and score – she would also double as costume designer and action choreographer. Seeing it as an opportunity to showcase her team it’s a vehicle by, with, and for stunt people. A labor of love for everyone involved. The Flower Of Sarnia became Babes with Blades: The Flower Of Sarnia before being rebranded to just Babes with Blades. And that’s what it ultimately is all about. Call it truth in advertising. Babes With Blades delivers exactly what it promises. It’s about babes… with blades.

Whoever thought that Cecily Fay would give up after the protracted release of Warrioress (2015) might as well looks elsewhere because Cecily isn’t going anywhere. No, it seems all the troubles she was beset with during production of her debut feature only added more to her resolve to get a second out. And that perseverance and determination is at least to be admired, even in light of how Babes with Blades presents no real progress (from a technical – or writing standpoint) from Warrioress (2015). We’d love nothing more for Cecily than that she’s able to produce that one feature that would finally break her through to an audience beyond martial arts enthusiasts. To its credit Babes with Blades is in every way to superior to things like Geisha Assassin (2008), a glorified martial arts demo reel that didn’t so much pretend as to have a story. No. Babes with Blades suffers from exactly the opposite, the action scenes sometimes get in the way of the story. Where character scenes would’ve sufficed there are seemingly never-ending action scenes. Sometimes it just is better to have a character forward the story arch with words instead of punches, kicks, and blades.

The galaxy trembles under the tyrannical rule of the Visray empire. The planet Sarnia is “under seige” (no, really). Azura (Trudie Tume) is taken captive by the invading forces. Twelve years pass, and Azura (Cecily Fay) has escaped the clutches of her captors and now hides on the mining planet of Draiga 5. There she survives by staying out of sight. One day Azura is discovered and imprisoned by Visray patrols. She’s sold to slavetrader Sef (John Robb, as Jon Robb) and is forced into gladiatorial combat for the amusement of Section Commander Sorrentine (Joelle Simpson). Sorrentine is grooming her son Peltarion (Daniel Everitt-Lock) as a successor. The catacombs are overflowing with rebellion and the headforce – the brave Viridian (Cheryl Burniston), the feisty Amber (Yennis Cheung), and pricefighter Dahlia (Lauren Okadigbo) – have managed to plant a deep undercover operative in the court with Kewan (Michael Collin). Before long Azura is deemed recuperated enough for gladiatorial combat. It’s at this juncture that Kewan hands her an arcane tome from which she learns ancient martial arts.

Empowered by the knowledge from the tome Azura comes face to face with the fearsome and feared Andromeda (Jo Marriott) and later Freya (Heather McLean). Much to the chagrin of both Sef and Section Commander Sorrentine both end up defeated in the arena, and Azura soon becomes the people’s favorite combatant. With Azura’s popularity ever increasing the freedom fighters realize that the hour draws near. In Azura they not only have a formidable champion, but also their new messiah, linchpin, and figurehead for their plebeian revolution, an insurgence strong enough that it may topple the cruel Visray regime that has long oppressed them. When it’s time for Dahlia to combat Azura in the ring the various rebel factions must come together. Azura’s motives are of a more personal nature. Exacting revenge for the slaying of her people, and Section Commander Sorrentine is the most directly responsible. The only question is: can Azura put her vendetta aside and rise to lead the revolution?

While by no means original Babes with Blades manages to pack just about everything in what is not really a whole lot of story to begin with. The general template is that of Bloodsport (1988) with a central character archetype straight out of Spartacus (1960) and a non-ambiguous good-evil out of Star Wars (1977). All of that is overlain with a negligible dystopian science-fiction component and steampunk cosplay aesthetic. Sadly, it takes the route of Lithuanian shlockfest Amazons and Gladiators (2001) rather than that of Mortal Kombat (1995) (a masterclass in storytelling/worldbuilding through economic exposition and succint character introductions) or Gladiator (2000). At one point Azura is even put in a weaponized necklace, sort of like the kids in Battle Royale (2000). When Azura comes to face to face with Andromeda and Freya both get an introductory line in their respective fight, but the screenplay never introduces them properly, nor what milestone they represent in Azura’s ascent to legendary hero. Pacing is problematic at best and once past the 55 minute mark (when Azura’s gladiatorial combat wraps up) Babes with Blades sort of collapses in on itself.

All of this could have been easily resolved had each contestant represented an actual obstacle and a milestone in Azura’s growth as a character. This would have made her eventual duel with Dahlia that much more powerful, especially if we weren’t privy to the fact that Dahlia was actually a rebel – and even moreso if the reveal of Dahlia’s true loyalties coincided with the coup d'état staged by the uprising rebellion (that now anticlimactically transpires post the arena fights) crushing the Visray empire in one swift blow, simultaneously putting Azura in gladiatorial combat with her arch nemesis. Andromeda and Freya now appear as regular contestants and not imposing figures they were probably were meant as. Script problems aren’t the only thing that grind Babes with Blades down. There’s the expected shaky camerawork that either is hyper-active or positioned in such a way that the action is occasionally hard to follow, or that completely irrelevant things clog up the frame. The lighting in the Magna Science Adventure Centre in Rotherham, South Yorkshire is mostly put to good use. Some of the more vibrant hues give it that artsy Mario Bava feel. The exteriors of the Crossness Pumping Station in London are good for what they are, but that’s about it. Given that this is the work of one woman makes it impressive in a technical sense. At least Cecily Fay is not Neil Breen. No, Fay’s modest catalogue is perhaps closest to pre-2013 Rene Perez.

And it’s not as if Cecily Fay, Lauren Okadigbo, and Yennis Cheung are novices either. No, that’s about as the furthest from the truth as you could get. Cecily Fay was a stunt performer in Prometheus (2012), and Skyfall (2012). Lauren Okadigbo was a stunt performer in Wonder Woman (2017), Justice League (2017), Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018) and most recently doubled for Zendaya in Dune (2021) and Nathalie Emmanuel in F9 (2021). Yennis Cheung was in a handful of Hong Kong and South Korean martial arts movies in late 90s before relocating to the UK. That about makes Lauren Okadigbo the Helen Steinway Bailey of the piece. Music commentator and punk rock monument John Robb (of The Membranes and Goldblade, as well as editor-in-chief of Louder Than War magazine) is surprisingly solid as a poor man’s Vinnie Jones or Jason Statham. The focal point, of course, is Cecily herself. Don’t be fooled by her diminutive stature and petite frame, Fay is Britain’s own Angela Mao Ying, JeeJa Yanin, or Veronica Ngo and it’s nigh on unbelievable that this woman is practically unknown.

To its credit Babes with Blades offers a veritable avalanche of high-octane Hong Kong-inspired action routines but is marred by non-existent cinematography, choppy editing, a hokey score, and amateur actors with more enthusiasm than talent. The near-constant barrage of death-defying action sequences, both with weaponry and without, work exactly the way you want them to; but it are the character – and exposition scenes where Babes with Blades fails most glaringly. As Warrioress (2015) before it Babes with Blades has the thinnest veneer of story as a preamble to have as many action sequences as humanly possible and like that one this too often looks like a Luis Royo, Boris Vallejo, or Frank Frazetta canvas brought to life. In other words, Babes with Blades is full of, well, babes in skimpy constumes and/or impractical armor. Fay’s Lollipop Chainsaw cheerleader costume pretty much is a futuristic make-over of the little number she wore in Warrioress (2015). Babes with Blades probably would do good in hiring Ukrainian bellydancer Diana Bastet as their resident costume designer. Whether Babes with Blades is actually an improvement over Warrioress (2015) depends entirely on your preference for no-budget, shot-on-video action demo reels with an absolute dearth of story. Since this one comes bearing The Flower Of Sarnia as chapter title that reasonably suggests there’s going to be sequels at some point. When, and if, it does hopefully it comes bearing Ken Kelly or Lorenzo Sperlonga poster art.

Plot: novelist vows to end government and corporate corruption.

Staggeringly incompetent on just about every level, impenetrable for the uninitiated, jarringly disjointed for the bad cinema aficionado, and incomprehensible for everybody else Fateful Findings is Neil Breen’s undiluted masterpiece. Breen flabbergasted the world with Double Down (2005) and I Am Here…. Now (2009) – and probably not in the way he intended or imagined. Not since Black Magic Rites (1973) and Ogroff (1983) was something so divorced from reality, so fantastically misguided, so life-affirmingly riveting in its complete and utter direness. If Double Down (2005) offered a mere glimpse into the fractured psyche of a man with a tenuous grip on sanity; then Fateful Findings is where old Neil went gloriously off the deep end. In other words, this is anything and everything you’d want out of a Breen production. Christian fringe cinema has appointed its own Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse: David A.R. White, Geovanni Molina, Kirk Cameron, and Neil Breen. Fateful Findings is a transcendental, transformative work loaded to the gill with just about every dell of insanity and one that Breen has had trouble living up to ever since.

His modest body of work might not seem very daunting but the sheer concentration of awful within such a small repertoire has led to a veritable cult worship of his work. Like all true gems enshrined in the pantheon of bad moviedom the power lies not so much in the number of productions that Neil Breen has amassed, but that each and every feature of his defies conventional criticism by their inherent weirdness. As such, Fateful Findings is the third of his religious-patriotic-jingoistic supernatural thrillers and his most ambitious (or unhinged) by a wide margin. Like I Am Here…. Now (2009) before it this one too is imbued with New Age mysticism which might, or might not, be Native American in nature. Like a modern day David L. Hewitt Las Vegas’ most famous former realtor and architect turned Christian geek green-Marxist is dangerously enthusiast and wholly unencumbered by his lack of talent in every department. Breen is a man with a plan, which should strike fear into the hearts of anyone. As always, nothing is ever that simple and as with everything there’s always more than meets the eye.

One day eight-year-olds Dylan (Jack Batoni) and Leah (Brianna Borden) discover a mushroom next to the base of a tree in an open field. The mushroom turns into a jewelry box containing a black token and a few beads. Dylan takes the token and Leah rearranges the beads into a bracelet. The box is buried and changes back into a mushroom. “It’s a magical day!”, they exclaim and as fate would have it the two are separated as Leah moves to another state. Several decades pass and Dylan (Neil Breen) is now an author in talks with his publisher about commencing preparations for his eagerly awaited second novel. He holds an MA in computer science and living with him is his painkiller addicted girlfriend Emily (Klara Landrat). Coming home Dylan is hit by an unmarked Rolls-Royce, and rushed to the hospital where he’s placed under the care of Dr. Rosen (David Scott). Both Emily and his friend Jim (David Silva) visit him in the hospital. Periodically he’s checked up upon by the svelte head of neurology. There Dylan, holding on to his black token, miraculously heals at a record pace. For no discernible reason he unplugs his IVs and waggles home against medical advice.

The situation in the household of his next-door neighbour Jim doesn’t seem much better. Things have been steadily getting worse with his girlfriend Amy (Victoria Viveiros, as Victoria Valene). She works an emotionally - and financially unrewarding job at the bank and they are amidst something of a dry spell. To take his mind off things Jim is seemingly permanently drunk whenever he’s not feverishly working on restoring his prized 1985 Ferrari Testarossa. Caught like a deer in the headlights in that maelstrom of chaos and turmoil is their underage stepdaughter Aly (Danielle Andrade). Meanwhile, Dylan develops supernatural powers such as telekinesis and teleportation at the cost of headaches, narcoleptic seizures, and haunting dreams of a mysterious book. Instead of working on a new novel he decides to dedicate his time to hacking into heavily-protected domestic and international government – and corporate databases to expose the corruption, greed, and fraud that has been allowed to run rampant. Because he’s so preoccupied with his exposé Emily suspects him of having an affair. To help Jim and Amy get out of their impasse Emily throws a dinner party house where nubile Aly decides to throw herself at Dylan near his pool and then again at the tub, but he wards off her advances. At the follow-up barbecue at his house Dylan discovers that his neurologist is none other than his childhood sweetheart Leah (Jennifer Autry). Instead of providing for him and his girlfriend Dylan indulges his hacking hobby and continues to see Leah on the side. This in turn pushes Emily, already struggling with a prescription drugs addiction and junkie lifestyle, further into depression.

To help him cope with the pressure of writing a new novel Dylan sees psychotherapist David S. Lee (John Henry Hoffman) who continues to prescribe him medication. He goes to see Dr. Andra (Gloria Hoffman) to get a second opinion and finds himself enthralled by her flowery, fortune-cookie spiritualist platitudes. Around this time Emily succumbs to her dependency and ODs whereas Amy, tired of their constant bickering and spurning of unwanted sexual advances, kills Jim in cold blood and stages it as a suicide. Aly is witness to the scene and, understandably, confides in Dylan. With Emily no longer a concern Dylan is free to romantically pursue Leah. As Dylan amasses evidence to make his case the powers-that-be facilitate the kidnapping of Leah by a shady figure (Mark Bettencort), but it’s nothing the near god-like Dylan can’t handle. In a televised Washington D.C. press conference Dylan bravely names the opposition and their numerous crimes against mankind’s best interests. During the press conference a last-minute, quickly thrown together assassination is attempted but it’s summarily thwarted by Dylan’s supernatural powers and senses. One by one politicians, Wall Street bankers, insurers, and judiciary confess to their assorted crimes and commit suicide in public. Happily reunited with the love of his life the two walk off hand in hand into the sunset. Corruption has been ended, the guilty have been punished, and Dylan has been reunited with his lost Lenore. Everything is right with the world again…

As expected all the Breen-isms are here: First, there’s the crude, non-specific socio-political commentary aimed squarely at rampant government corruption and greed in the corporate business world, none of which is ever meaningfully explored. There’s the obligatory second act melodramatic exclamation (“I can’t believe you committed suicide!” and “no more books!” here). All of that is neatly spiced up by a thick layer of vague conspiratorial nonsense, and a complete lack of action of any kind. Just like in Double Down (2005) there’s Breen playing an every-man (with a pronounced interest in computer science) turned into a superpowered messianic Christ-like savior by some undefined divine providence to fight the many evils in the world; as well as his penchant for casting well-endowed, permanently braless blonde - and brunette women half his age.

In Fateful Findings we have Klara Landrat, Jennifer Autry, Victoria Viveiros, and Danielle Andrade who all look like they should, or will be, in Rene Perez movies. Or at least in something from either The Asylum or TomCat Films. Old Neil likes busty blonde Valley girls as much as the late Russ Meyer, Andy Sidaris, Cirio H. Santiago, and Jim Wynorski. It wouldn’t be a Neil Breen spectacular if there wasn’t any commentary on a big relevant social issue. In Double Down (2005) Neil expressed his obvious concern over how American society views and treats the mentally ill and the way America handles the psychological well-being of its citizenry. I Am Here.… Now (2009) was about poverty, prostitution, and the mounting energy crisis. It pushed a commendable environmentalist agenda of sustainable, renewable energy. Fateful Findings abandons that thread and concerns itself with pharma culture, substance abuse/dependency, and suicide instead. As far as “controversial” subject matter and “thought-provoking” no-budget filmmaking goes, Breen is the absolute master.

Believe it or not, Fateful Findings is actually a marked improvement over his prior two outings and his opus magnum. John Mastrogiacomo was involved merely as a camera man yet without a director of photography Breen somehow managed to line up a few idyllic shots of the Las Vegas cityscape and the Nevada desert. Old Neil never hid his appreciation and love for the shapes and curves of the female form. A form he isn’t afraid of showing (Breen apparently has a kink for sideboob and bare feet), but he always does so in a perfectly audience-friendly PG-13 manner. He’s exploitative enough to have them braless, with their busts nearly spilling out of their blouses, and/or have liquid spilled on translucent fabric. Yet the money shot remains curiously absent. Instead when his women appear topless or nude they do so with their backs modestly to the camera. This would be understandable had any of these women been name-actresses, but that’s far from the case. To compensate for the apparent lack of bare breasts (Breen needs to take lessons from Jim Wynorski and Rene Perez) there are the obligatory auteur butt shots, but even they would eventually (and thankfully) dissipate. The special effects work is cruddy, the editing is shoddy, the audio wobbly - but the pacing has improved. As far as casting goes Breen never quite assembled an host of nobodies like this again.

Fateful Findings has enough intersecting storylines to fill three movies. We’d be interested in seeing the Closer (2004) inspired romantic drama with Klara Landrat and Victoria Viveiros and their respective significant others, or the proxy Swimming Pool (2003) with Danielle Andrade as the Ludivine Sagnier character and Breen standing in for Charlotte Rampling. Andrade is no Sagnier, and unlike her French counterpart in the François Ozon film, she won’t be flaunting her breasts either. Then there’s the espionage thriller with a novelist being hounded by government spooks after happening upon a worldwide political conspiracy of corruption and fraud. The latter of which is really what Breen likes to focus on. For the most part however Fateful Findings is content to follow the general contours of Jon Turteltaub’s Phenomenon (1996) (with John Travolta).

Compared to the sheer lunacy and opaque mysticism of Double Down (2005) and proselytizing of I Am Here…. Now (2009), Fateful Findings is relatively grounded in its surrealism. Which doesn’t mean it’s any less batshit insane. It doesn’t make a lick of sense at the best of times and will be nigh on inaccessible to anybody but the staunchest and most resilient of bad movie fans. As a director/writer and auteur Neil Breen remains truly unparallelled. He truly is appaled by political – and government malfeasance, fascinated with mysticism and the paranormal; whether they come in the form of enchanted rocks or top-heavy, clothing-averse women. Breen feverishly weaves action, drama, social commentary, and the paranormal like no other. He does so in such a disjointed fashion that hitherto hasn’t been seen before – or ever again. Neil truly is boldly going where no one has gone before, and seems to have lost both his marbles and his much of his composure along the way. That, or he’s having one hell of a midlife crisis. At this point it could be either…