Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
"LAST OF THE MONSTER KIDS" - Available Now on the Amazon Kindle Marketplace!

Monday, May 13, 2019

VIDEO GAME MOVIE MONTH: Alone in the Dark (2005)

After unleashing “House of the Dead” on the world, Uwe Boll was already notorious. If the German director had stopped there, his name still would've gone down in bad movie history. Instead, Boll rarely rested. In-between “House of the Dead's” release in 2003 and his very public retirement in 2016, Uwe directed twenty-two movies. He often released two or three in a single year. Out of that impressive number, nine of the films would be adapted from video games. “Alone in the Dark,” his second game adaptation, is the film that really solidified Boll's reputation as one of the worst directors working at the time. Upon its release in 2005, the film would be called one of the worst ever made and become the lowest grossing theatrically release video game movie.

Boll's “Alone in the Dark” purports to be an adaptation of the influential survival horror series, specifically the popular 2001 reboot. Aside from starring a paranormal detective named Edward Cornby and monsters that are partially invisible in darkness, the two have nothing in common. Cornby is a former agent of a top secret government agency that battles the supernatural. As an orphan, he was exposed to strange experiments by a mad doctor attempting to open a portal to another dimension. Twenty years later, the same doctor has come into the possession of several ancient Indian artifacts that will open this portal again, unleashing hordes of shadowy monsters. Cornby teams up with his archaeologist girlfriend and a former co-worker to prevent the apocalypse.

“House of the Dead's” plot was blissfully simple in its stupidity. It didn't get much more complicated than a bunch of people arriving on an island infested with zombies. “Alone in the Dark,” meanwhile, has a needlessly complicated plot. In its first half-hour, it buries the viewer in exposition. This comes in the form of an opening text scroll, a few flashbacks, and gratuitous voice-over narration from Christian Slater. The story manages to roll together a completely invented Native American mythology, inter-dimensional travel, several magical MacGuffins, a mad scientist pursuing uncertain goals, and a secret government organization. Despite all the time “Alone in the Dark” spends on its story, it's also very apparent that the film doesn't care about its plot at all. This results in a frequently tedious experience, everything in the movie happening for pretty much no reason.

Which isn't to say “Alone in the Dark” lacks the unintentional hilarity previous displayed in Boll's films. The director's aggressively tacky style is reined in a little from “House.” But only a little. After all, he inserts a soft-focus sex scene into the middle of the movie, plot be damned. There's CGI-assisted zoom-ins on dilating pupils and swooping shots of the locations. Boll's hilariously over-confident direction is most evident in the action scenes. Early in the movie, there's a fight between Cornby and some possessed dude. This results in slow motion kicks through windows and improbably acrobatic leaps into the air. Later, a firefight between a group of marines and the shadow monsters is hilariously scored to wailing heavy metal.

Ultimately though, “Alone in the Dark” is not as consistently hilarious as Boll's previous video game adaptation. The film is an unabashed rip-off of various better movies. Large portions of the film resembles “Aliens,” as indistinct army guys battle parasitic monsters with stabbing tails and black armor. Boll is not subtle about this, as he includes automatic turrets and names the monsters “Xenos.” He also includes some rather random super-strong zombies who snap people's neck, just for the hell of it. Ultimately, watching this blatant “Aliens” rip-off proves only so entertaining. “Alone in the Dark's” last act is fairly dull, the action beats getting more repetitive.

Much of the critical scorn that greeted “Alone in the Dark” was saved for its cast. Tara Reed, cast as a genius archaeologist, was rather mean-spiritedly singled out. Now, don't get me wrong. Reed gives an awful performance, her squeaky voice seeming especially out of place, her delivery wooden. Yet she's truly no better or worst than anyone else in the film. Stephen Dorff gruffly barks orders throughout most of the film, seeming perpetually pissed off in the least convincing manner possible. Christian Slater's Edward Carnby is a totally generic hero. Giving credit where its due, Slater seems to be genuinely trying to make some sense of the incoherent screenplay. All the other actors in the film might as well be cardboard cut-outs.

Despite its record-setting low box office and absolute critical pummeling, “Alone in the Dark” was also inexplicably popular on video. We know this because Lionsgate cranked out a special edition director's cut DVD and, two years later, a direct-to-video sequel that had nothing to do with this film and even less to do with the original video game series. (Boll's DVD audio commentary is something of a cult classic in its own right.) While “Alone in the Dark” is definitely a bad movie, calling it one of the worst ever made is overstating things. It's not the laugh-a-minute camp fest “House of the Dead” was. It's actually pretty boring for the most part and would be indistinguishable from any number of shitty low budget horror movies, if not for Boll's occasionally ridiculous directorial flourishes. [4/10]

No comments: