Friday, September 10, 2010

Alone in the Dark

How might you know Alone in the Dark is going to be a bad movie before you watch it?  Well, perhaps you know that it is a film adaptation of a video game franchise.  Those always make for good movies, right?  Or maybe you noticed that Uwe Boll is the director.  Or perhaps you saw Tara Reid's name above the title.  All of these are good reasons not to watch this movie.  The only reason you should watch this is if you want to see just how bad it gets.  Here's a hint: pretty bad.

For those of you unfamiliar with the video game series, Alone in the Dark is a suspense/horror game.  Basically, you wander around creepy buildings, looking for clues as to what has made everything so creepy, until you encounter a monster.  At this point you can either mash your controller buttons frantically, hoping that your character will shoot the damn thing, and/or you can soil yourself.  That basic concept makes this series sound like a natural fit for the supernatural thriller movie sub-genre.  So, should we expect a lot of eerie sets and the kind of suspense that has you waiting and for something to happen, and nothing happens and nothing happens and nothing happens and then the music gets real loud and LOOK OUT there's nothing there?  Repeat three times, and on the fourth time, exchange the "nothing" for "a zombie frothing at the mouth."  Actually, that might not be a terrible movie.  Too bad that's not the direction the filmmakers took.

The film opens with a lengthy prologue, which is immediately followed by a reenactment of the lengthy prologue.  That prologue must be pretty important to the story, right?  Actually, no.  It feels like some poor soul watched an early cut of the movie and asked "What the hell was the beginning all about?"  Instead of taking this as a hint that the plot and script are pretty bad, they just had someone do a voice over summary of the first scene.  Brilliant save, Mr. Boll!  It then turns out that the prologue and the reenactment were just dreamed by Edward Carnby (Christian Slater), paranormal investigator.  So...his dreams have voice overs?  How very meta.  Carnby was asleep on an airplane, when he wakes with a start.  The child sitting next to him helpfully tells him that there's nothing to be afraid of in the dark.  Not that the airplane was dark.  When Carnby lands, he is then followed by a creepy dude, and they eventually fight.  The creepy bad guy clearly has super powers, because he can jump high, run fast, and punch through bricks.  Carnby also appears to have powers, because he can hold his own in the fight.  That's never explained, but at least it's shot in slow-motion.

Meanwhile, we are introduced to the assistant curator of a museum, Aline Cedrac (Tara Reid).  She doesn't speak, but instead acts intelligent by wearing glasses and writing on a clipboard.  Instead, an unusually well-informed security guard discusses how awesome she is to a delivery driver within earshot of her.  He also explains that the stuff being delivered is a bunch of Abkani artifacts.  The Abkani were a super-advanced culture that vanished 10,000 years ago, and their relics have been found in the most remote parts of the world.  You've probably heard of this not-at-all fictional siciety, so I won't bother you with any more information about them.  Neither will this film.

What does that have to do with anything?  Well, Carnby shows up at the museum with an artifact for Aline to check out.  The two are apparently lovers, but Carnby vanished for several months without contacting her.  Aww...but they seemed so right for each other!  Aline scans the artifact into her computer (How?), and it immediately builds a three-dimensional image of the artifact (No, before telling her that the artifact is definitely Abkani (What?!?  Now you're just messing with me!).  How did Carnby get his hands on this artifact?  In his exact words,
"I was in the Amazon for six weeks, tracking poachers across their transport lines and I fell in with a group of ex-Chilean military that were selling artifacts on the black market."  
Dude, if you don't want to tell me the truth, just say so.

So, I guess the super-powered bad guy was after the artifact?  It's never explained, really, but not explaining that at least avoids explaining how the bad guy knew Carnby had the artifact to begin with.  Anyway, these weird kind of, sort of, sometimes invisible monsters that look like a blend of a dog, reptile and scorpion break into the museum and chase Carnby and Aline for a while.  Then a military group shows up, shoots the dogorpions, and the field leader, Burke (Stephen Dorff), belittles Carnby for being involved.  If that makes no sense to you, congratulations, you're sane.  Apparently, Carnby used to be part of this military group, but he quit for the exciting life of the paranormal investigator.  Burke hates him for that.  Or something else.  You never find out.  But he hates Carnby and refuses to accept his help.  Until he changes his mind.  And then more super-powered people show up and kill a bunch of soldiers.  And then Carnby, Aline, and Burke figure out where the dogorpions are coming from and go there to attack the source.  Will they succeed?  Or will they just suck?

Here are just a few ridiculous things about this movie:
  • The main characters are never actually alone in the dark.
  • All travel scenes are done with long shots of vehicles and voice over.  Cheap.
  • Christian Slater and Tara Reid have a sex scene, where she keeps her bra on.  I certainly don't want to see her mangled boobs again, but that's just weird.  It's not like she was cast for her acting ability, so the lack of nudity is absolutely befuddling.
  • How do they find the location of the dogorpion source?  By combining Abkani artifacts so that they make a tower, which somehow indicates a constellation, which helps pinpoint a geographic land mass, which appears to be the United States.  Pin and point!
  • An abandoned scientific lab has power, twenty-odd years after being abandoned.

This is just a mess.  Characters come and go, with no points of reference to indicate how close they are to danger.  The super-powered bad guys turn out to be sort of zombies, which somehow connects to the prologue, but not very well.  The special effects are cartoony, and even the lack of light on the set doesn't disguise it.  Characters change their personalities on a dime and randomly prioritize things.  Hey, Stephen Dorff, you've left dozens of your soldiers after they've died, but when time is a factor in the plot, you all of a sudden have to save an undoubtedly dead guy?  C'mon!  These obvious flaws are kind of funny, but the movie isn't any fun to watch.  I can like me some Lefty Gold when I find it, but this was just a draining experience.

This was a bad movie from start to finish.  And, when I say "start," I am referring to the start of pre-production.  It didn't stay true to the tone of the games and it doesn't feel like a horror movie.  The action sequences are boring and stupid.  The plot was unintentionally incomprehensible.  On paper, you would think that casting Tara Reid as the resident smart person in the movie would be the film's biggest mistake, but that pales in comparison to all the story problems.  I'm convinced that Uwe Boll doesn't understand the concept of storytelling.  In the unrated version (which I have not seen), Boll allegedly re-cut the film radically, virtually eliminating Reid from the final product.  Now, I'm not going to lie and say that Tara Reid is a fine actress, but her involvement was far from the worst thing about Alone in the Dark.  The fact that Boll would misunderstand his product's shortcomings that much makes me hope never to see another of his movies again.  I probably will, because they all look hilarious, but I should probably see this film as a lesson in how bad movies can be.

1 comment:

  1. Damn your eyes for watching this! You got what you deserved. Ewe Boll's follow-up to House of the Dead? I hope this movie took a year off your life. Still, I have one question. Did he use screen shots of the video game as "special effects" again?