Alone in the Dark

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A few weeks ago, I actually had a dream about ALONE IN THE DARK. It was a wonderful dream. I had paid the admission price to see the film and sat down in the theatre. I wasn't expecting it to set the world on fire, but I was going to give it a chance. As the film unfolded, I noticed that director Uwe Boll had grown considerably from his previous cinematic disaster, HOUSE OF THE DEAD. The film continued on and I realized I didn't even hate the film, but found it quite enjoyable. As the film neared closer and closer to the end, finally exploding into an amazing climax of apocalyptic beauty, I was dumbfounded. This was a fantastic movie. Smart and entertaining and even dare I say it, scary. I thought for sure they must have shown us the wrong movie. Nothing we had seen would suggest the film could be this good. I marched up to the projectionists booth and a number of people who were also shocked by the quality followed me (It's a dream, remember? This is allowed.) The projectionist was also staring at the screen slack-jawed. He agreed immediately to re-thread the film and show it to us with all the documentation proving that it was indeed the right film. My God, ALONE IN THE DARK was actually a good movie. My head was spinning. Suddenly, my heart filled up with misty-eyed hope for the future. Maybe that meant Uwe Boll's other projects would be good - BLOODRAYNE, HUNTER: THE RECKONING, hell even FAR CRY and DUNGEON SEIGE if he can pull off the funding. He really could be as great as he said he was. The world of film, video games and especially horror was saved. Glorious!

Then I woke up, shook the cobwebs out of my head and realized it was all a dream. ALONE IN THE DARK had no even been released yet. I sighed heavily and said, "Ah shit," hoping that at least some of the dream would be prophetic.

Now the time has come and I have paid my hard-earned cash and sat down in the theatre for real. But that was where the deja vu ended. It's official, with two video game adaptations under his belt, Uwe Boll is truly the hack we accused him of being. ALONE IN THE DARK is just as bad as we all feared, and is in some cases even worse.

That is because when we saw HOUSE OF THE DEAD, it was a bit of a watershed in the world of horror. When we saw what Boll would do, it was a stunning surprise. We couldn't believe the bad characters, camera work and inane decisions that went along with the film. It was a painful experience, but a bit of a hoot if you wanted to talk about bad movies. The news here is not that ALONE IN THE DARK is a bad film, but that it is bad in such an unremarkable way.

Don't get me wrong, the film is horrible. Every single moment is handled about as bad as you could imagine. But it's no longer cute and the results are worse than bad filmmaking, it's boring filmmaking.

To know where ALONE IN THE DARK starts to go wrong, you have to start from the beginning. And I mean the very beginning, as in immediately after the logo. We have a text crawl move up the screen as a man narrates in broken English (Uwe Boll himself? Who knows.). It has obviously been added after the fact, in an attempt to explain what we are about to see. The thing is that the crawl is incomprehensible and the viewer may well find themselves lost before the first frame of actual footage is shown. It also gives away several plot points from later in the film, plot points that were obviously meant to be a surprise. If this isn't enough, there is also the additional expository device of having Christian Slater narrate the film in the same detached monotone that recalls Harrison Ford in the old theatrical cut of BLADE RUNNER, before they took the lame overdub out. And then, there is additional ADR looping, clearly added after production on the film was complete, shown over endless second unit shots of nothing in particular, all in an attempt to explain what is going on. But no matter, because even after all of this exposition, the plot is still Swiss cheese. You will still have a very hard time grasping just what the hell is going on. I don't know if anyone could. The film is a muddled mess could make perfect sense to absolutely no one who was not intimately close to the production (Maybe even then, since Tara Reid appeared on THE SCREEN SAVERS and appeared confused when asked about the plot.).

I'll do the best I can to lay it all out for you. There was an ancient Native American tribe called the Abskani. They believed that there was a world of light and a world of darkness. This is the world of light, although to anyone without blinders it would seem gray at best. They set up a portal to the dark dimension, we don't know how. They then decided to open it. Why? Again, we don't know, sort of a Pandora's Box thing I guess. The creatures that emerged from the portal wiped the Abskani out. Since then, the portal has remained closed and hidden, but there are those who wish to re-open the gates again.

Wait, the creatures killed of the Abskani. So, how was the portal closed? Who closed it? Why didn't the world end then and there? What am I missing? Why does my head hurt? Mommy...

Now we start out with a mad scientist's program to raise "sleepers," orphan children with demon worms fused to their spinal column. The idea is that when called by the creatures to re-open the portal they will then go off and... do their thing. Actually, they just make a brief nuisance of themselves. It really isn't too clear. A shipment of kids was to be sent off, but one escaped and electrocuted himself in order to kill his worm. I think it was intentional but we don- oh, you get the picture.

That kid grows up to be Edward Carnby (Christian Slater), a paranormal investigator who has been collecting Abskani artifacts in an attempt to find the key to his past. See, he doesn't remember anything, but he somehow knows about the Abskani, the monsters and the orphanage. He also used to be part of a government agency dedicated to the fight against supernatural forces called 713. He was repeatedly blocked in his attempts to find out the secret of the Abskani people and so he quit and went into business for himself.

Shortly after finding an Abskani artifact, a sleeper with superhuman strength tries to kill him. After dispatching him thanks to the magic of slow motion and bullet-time (oh yes, they're back), he goes to his ex-girlfriend for help. That woman is Aline Cedrac (Tara Reid), a paleontologist who is helping decipher Abskani artifacts for Prof. Hudgeons (Matthew Walker), the same guy who headed the old sleeper experiment. Small world, huh?

She is startled to see Carnby since she thought he was dead. He promises to explain but never does. We never find out why she thought he was dead or why he left her in the first place. Not that it matters because she apparently has the memory of a goldfish. They are quickly bumping uglies in a sex scene that shows no foreplay, passion, arousal, and alas no nudity. It's the most abrupt and dull love scene I can think of. Congratulations, Uwe. As a director, you can't even do good porn.

Back to what we laughingly call a plot, Carnby's artifact groups with a bunch of other artifacts recovered to form some sort of master object. And here comes Prof. Hudgeons with the most important piece, the cherry on the evil sundae. Too bad, a series of monsters and sleepers now make it their life's mission to kill Carnby and the other guys from 713.

Yes, 713 sneaks into the film too, led by Commander Richards (Stephen Dorff, who always looks like he resents appearing in this film), a gruff guy who resents Carnby for leaving 713 until Carnby saves his life. Carnby, Alice and Richards try to find the source of the monsters and stop them from opening the portal. This involves many scenes of them shooting the living crap out of anything that moves.

There's a bunch of other stuff, but really this is as clear as I can make it. Three people wrote the script for ALONE IN THE DARK (the guilty parties include Elan Mastai, Michael Roesch and Peter Scheerer, the latter two of which also wrote the upcoming HOUSE OF THE DEAD 2!) and the film was then put in Boll's incapable hands. Boll has a tendency to make himself overly available to the press. He talks like he's the next Kubrick and then directs like a dyslexic six year-old. This is one of the cases where ALONE IN THE DARK is actually worse - yes, worse - than HOUSE OF THE DEAD. With HOUSE, the script and the characters were awful, but they didn't have much to work with. A rave that gets invaded by zombies was all the HOUSE crew had to work with. ALONE IN THE DARK burdens Boll with actually having to tell a story and we get absolute proof that he is not up to the task. The film makes no sense. The film has a wealth of information and no idea how to convey it. What information is conveyed just sits there and it isn't communicated in a straight-forward or entertaining manner. None of it is integrated into the storyline. It instead appears like a fist-full of half-realized ideas all jumbled together and thrown against a wall. We also have the tell-tale signs of incompetance when the film gets its own time frames mixed up and cannot keep track of its own order of events (Whenever Slater comments on being attacked, count back and see if you ever get the same number of days he does.).

Of course, an incomprehensible script is right at home with Boll's inept direction. Many directors, whether they be good or bad, always illicit a response from the viewer. Some touch a nerve repeatedly so that we always find ourselves recalling the same emotion. Boll achieves this, but the feeling he elicits is confusion. Several times during ALONE IN THE DARK, I just stared at the screen and said, "Huh?" Not that the Swiss cheese plot had any great knowledge or complexity. It's merely that Boll remains unskilled in even the most basic forms of direction. At times, he doesn't even seem like a real director but a cruel joke on the moviegoing public.

Boll does not shoot enough coverage. Therefore, every scene looks choppy and unfinished. Just as we've adjusted to one bit, something else is already in the process of unraveling on the screen. His editing is one of the biggest problems, so out of control, it's nearly impossible to tell what's going on. The sets do not look fully dressed so everything looks like it was shot in a warehouse on the sly. The film is grainy and fuzzy-looking. Once again, Boll can't hold a budget and ALONE IN THE DARK is another waste of $20 million. The film looks like it barely cost a million bucks. I would say the film looked like a straight-to-video effort, but that would be a profound insult to all the decent straight-to-video films on the market. Slater was on a few episodes of ALIAS a while back. Any of these episodes looked better than this entire film.

Speaking of Slater, he is the only one in the film to have a character that is even partially fleshed-out. He doesn't embarrass himself as much as everyone else, but with the lousy dialogue he's given, no one will be able to call it a "good" performance. Nobody else matters. Tara Reid plays a paleontologist, that's it. This is supposed to be her entire character, and as any first-year writing student knows, an occupation does not a human make. Reid, whom I really liked in JOSIE AND THE PUSSIECATS, should have fired her agent years ago. She's been thrown into nothing but bad movies ever since JUST VISITING and VAN WILDER. Dorff is a hardass and he doesn't pull it off. He is also a capable actor. Remember his Leary-esque villain in BLADE? How about as the forgotten Beatle in BACKBEAT? Or the sympathetic drag queen in I SHOT ANDY WARHOL? Here, he's lost precisely because nobody on the crew seems to care about the characters. So why should the cast? The rest of the cast is rounded out mainly by people who have been limited to extras and bit parts. If this film is any indication, they should all stay there. One exception is Will Sanderson, who actually seems to be maliciously giving us bad performances. This is his fourth Uwe Boll film, after BLACKWOODS, HEART OF AMERICAN and HOUSE OF THE DEAD and he's set to appear again in Boll's BLOODRAYNE.

Boll loves his special effects, which wouldn't be so horrible if he gave us something interesting to look at. Every action sequence is played for people with short attention spans. They are so jumbled that he doesn't always finish showing us what is happening. We start on one end of the room and jump to another. It's like Camera Angle Salad, showing a haphazard mix of money shots and then just stopping the whole thing and collapsing in a heap. It really is one big wank. He throws in strobe effects, shudder cams, bullet time, slo mo - anything to show off, but he does it without any rhyme or reason. The computer effects are terrible. An important plot point is that the monsters thrive in the dark. All the better to conceal their shoddy CGI manifestations.

With this laundry list of cinematic atrocities, you may be tempted to see ALONE IN THE DARK. But don't forget the worst crime the film commits - it's boring. Yes, in fact ALONE IN THE DARK is one of the most boring films I've seen in some time. You won't know what's going on it's true, but you probably won't care either. Boll is notorious for his enthusiasm in interviews. It is surprising then that none of that enthusiasm is on the screen. The performances are wooden, the script is dull and the direction is absolutely without any spark whatsoever. There is absolutely no suspense or entertainment in the entire film. I did laugh out loud a few times, but it was not in the bad-movie REEFER MADNESS kind of fun. It was more in a pleading "When the hell is this going to end?" feeling of hopelessness. It is a very long 96 minutes and I checked my watch repeatedly, fearing time may have stood still.

Since I've been talking about its production for nearly two years, I felt a need to see ALONE IN THE DARK for myself and for the site. Now I urge everyone to stay far away from it. I regret putting any money in Boll's pocket. It is dangerous to do such a thing. Because as bad as all of this is, it gets worse. ALONE IN THE DARK actually threatens us with a sequel, one that will be made if it is deemed financially viable. Before you pay to see this film out of the same morbid curiosity I had, ask yourself if you really want to be accused of helping that happen.

Reviewed by Scott W. Davis