Published May 09, 2013In many ways, we have little control over our passions once they take hold. Consider Greg Sommer, the ebullient man behind the Toronto chapter of Box Wars, a combat activity that sees competitors craft armour and weapons from cardboard before engaging in fierce battles to see who will be the last to have their boxes ripped from their bodies. Though he may be eccentric and some may find his efforts misguided, there/s something genuinely inspiring about his devotion to what he loves.
Skull World (the documentary about Sommer and the world of Box Wars) could have benefitted from a little more distance from its subject though. Director Justin McConnell is obviously a close friend of Sommer's and a great admirer of his accomplishments, making some of the more meandering passages in his reverential treatment rather banal and, in some cases, detrimental to what he's attempting to accomplish.
Sommer is a fascinating character, however, still living in his mother's basement, well into his early 30s, while working at a cemetery to help fund elaborate battles. He details how he first heard about Box Wars from some people in Australia who had stumbled upon his online comedy channel, Variety Store TV, a collection of obnoxious skits showcasing his larger-than-life personality.
In following him over the course of a couple years, the film charts his relationships with friends, the incremental success earned from increased exposure and the genesis of the Skull Man persona he adopts when donning a Halloween mask. With his indefatigable spirit and an allegiance to metal music clearly driving him, it's an underlying outcast mentality that unites the Box Wars community.
It's this universal need for acceptance and worthwhile human connections that manage to strike a chord, but the film pads its running time with excursions that ultimately stray too far from this identifiable path. These include Sommer experimenting with Iowaska as a form of transcendental meditation and his involvement with a group that attempts to make contact with aliens by lighting some candles at a cottage.
It's evident that there's great creativity involved in how people fashion their cardboard for a fight and the battle scenes make a persuasive case for Box Wars being a fun way to spend an afternoon. However, the subject would have been better suited to a short rather than a feature, as it quickly becomes evident that a little of Sommer goes a long way. (Indiecan)