Alone in the Dark / Jeremy C. Fox
Film Reviews | May 13, 2006 | Comments ()
Leaving a screening of Alone in the Dark, a friend said to me, “I think that may actually be the worst movie ever made.” I responded, “No, I’ve seen one that was a little worse: House of the Dead.”* It was with no surprise that I later found that the two shared the same accursed director, Uwe Boll; six producers; a cinematographer, production designer, and art director; and that two of Alone’s writers, Michael Roesch and Peter Scheerer, scripted the upcoming House of the Dead 2: Dead Aim (Roesch was also co-executive producer on House), and the third, Elan Mastai, is responsible for writing such cringe-inducing material as MVP 2: Most Vertical Primate. This is clearly a cabal bent on the total destruction of the art of the motion picture.
The two crapstravaganzas share another important trait: They’re both based on video games. Has a single good movie ever been made from such a starting point? When Tomb Raider is the absolute zenith of a genre, it would seem to give one pause. But at least some of those other disastrous failures are campy fun; the makers of Alone hardly even give us anything to laugh at.
Under the category of lesser evils, we have the cast, headed by Christian Slater, Tara Reid, and Stephen Dorff. In fairness, each of these actors has been in at least one or two genuinely good movies, but when such C-listers are the names above the title, the whole enterprise is already a bit suspect. As paranormal investigator Edward Carnby, Slater phones in his performance, delivering the same agitated petit Nicholson impression he’s been doing for over 15 years. Dorff, playing Slater’s rival, makes a play for intensity and sinks even lower. He’s simply too lightweight and physically unprepossessing an actor to pull off the adrenalized, testosterone-dripping action hero he’s trying for. Slater at least holds our attention long enough to arouse sympathetic embarrassment; Dorff’s tough-guy act is so pallid and so forced that it makes no dent in our somnolence. But I’ve saved the best for last.
Tara Reid, of all people, plays an archaeologist, the assistant curator of a museum, wearing the black plastic frame glasses and the conservative chignon that theoretically transform her from hard-partying gossip-page fodder into a smart professional woman. In reality, her intellectual drag makes her look less like a scientist than a stripper at the beginning of her act. Reid provides a performance of surpassing amateurishness, delivering her dialogue in a noncommittal singsong, as if she’d learned her lines phonetically, and offering up more blank looks than a mannequin factory. Her attempts at evincing distress consist of crinkling her forehead and dropping her jaw so that her mouth forms a capital “O.” Her little Betty Boop voice is thoroughly unsuited to the pseudoscientific gobbledygook she’s required to spout; fortunately she has long periods of just standing around looking bewildered. I suspect many of her lines were cut due to her unsuitable delivery—in the second half of the film, she’s in half the scenes but has all of two lines: When Slater inserts an object into a lock in which it fits quite neatly, she astutely observes, “It’s a key!” and then cautions, “Some doors were meant to stay shut.” And some mouths, as well, Tara.
The storyline is two tons of complicated nonsense about an ancient Native American tribe that opened a gateway into a world of giant scorpion-like monsters, later strewing the Americas with the components that would open it again (one is located in Newfoundland, which Ms. Reid is unable to pronounce). A mad scientist rediscovers their tribal secrets sometime in the mid-20th Century and performs experiments, fusing evil millipedes to the spinal columns of orphans (oh, that old trick). Imagine a really bad “X-Files” minus the saving grace of Duchovny and Anderson’s amusing byplay. Or any other saving grace, for that matter.
Boll seems to operate on the theory that constant violence equals constant entertainment, but the pacing is so flatfooted that the presumptive thrills ooze by largely unnoticed. He tries to make a visual connection to the film’s Atari progenitor through a montage of first-person-shooter style scenes that are much more likely to induce migraines than excitement. (This, though, is a vast improvement over House, in which Boll actually inserted brief scenes of video-game action as a framing device.) Dozens upon dozens of undifferentiated minor characters are offered up for slaughter, but we don’t care and we’re not frightened. The monsters owe a lot to H.R. Giger’s Alien designs and even more to unconvincingly matched CGI, but they’re not scary, or really even disgusting. They’re just boring. If they had any personality at all, we’d be rooting for them to tear up the principles, but as it is we’re thoroughly indifferent to both sides.
Alone is the rare $20 million movie that looks like it cost about 20 bucks to make. Wherever all that money went, it certainly wasn’t into script development. The movie offers no scares, no sexiness, no comedy, no drama, and absolutely nothing resembling fun. I’m willing to assume that anyone who chooses to see it is simply a masochist of the first order, but I still can’t grasp the reasoning that led Slater, Reid, and Dorff into this miasma. When your career has dropped to this low, why not chuck your pretenses and just do porn?
Jeremy C. Fox is a founding critic of Pajiba and a member of the Online Film Critics Society.You may email him at jeremycfox[at]gmail.com.