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Alone in the Dark (2005)
~Review by Grawlix (April 2018)
I’m only three movies into the odd netherworld that is Uwe Boll’s catalogue, and already I’m noticing some trends. I have this theory that instead of writing a script and then casting based on appropriateness to the rolls, Boll casts actors first, the biggest names he can afford, and then works outward from there. For Alone in the Dark, one of these names was Tara Reid, cast as an assistant museum curator, which inspired much mirth at the time. Now, I, personally, am of the opinion that the idea of miscasting roles is invoked a little too liberally in film criticism. Sure, I can imagine an egregious hypothetical example, like, say, if Michael Cera was cast as Morgan Freeman’s brother or something, but just because a casting decision might look a little weird on the surface, doesn’t mean the actor shouldn’t have the opportunity to prove their doubters wrong. Idris Elba turned out to be perfectly adequate as Heimdall in the Thor movies, for example, and Frank Langella was nominated for an academy award for playing Richard Nixon despite the near universal observation that he didn’t really look like him.
But enough about good cinema. The point is, I’m not going to knock Alone in the Dark solely for the baggage Reid, as a person, brings to her role. I was perfectly willing to accept her as a brainy museum curator if she proved capable in the role. …She didn’t, though. Let it be known that I honestly wanted to be wrong, but there’s just something about her line readings that make her either sound bored, or in complete non-comprehension of what she’s saying. I guess being hungover can’t be ruled out either.
It’s hard, I know, to imagine that a single actor’s performance can diminish an Uwe Boll movie, but honestly, the other recognizable names in the cast, Christian Slater and Stephen Dorff, don’t come off too badly. Christian Slater plays Edward Carnby, a paranormal investigator and former member of an elite government anti-supernatural threat squad. Stephen Dorff is the new commander of said squad. The two of them come into conflict over a threat tied to ancient relics that Carnby is investigating, apparently capable of opening a gateway to an alternate dimension wherein lives a race of darkness-dwelling creatures hungering to cross over and feast on humanity. My experience with the Alone in the Dark games ends with the third installment so I can say with certainty that this has nothing to do with the series up to that point, though whether the story is referencing any of the subsequent games, I don’t know. To my mind the movie seemed to be inspired equally by Aliens and the (highly underrated, in my opinion) 1997 thriller The Relic. But, as usual, this suggests far more cohesion than Alone in the Dark actually displays.
This is another trend I’ve noticed in Boll’s movies: the man clearly loves action. I daresay he loves it a little too much. Boll seems dominated by this compulsion to stuff action elements into his movies based on how cool they sound without regard to how (or, indeed, if) they serve the greater narrative. Of the three Boll movies I’ve watched, two featured swordplay, and all three worked in a martial arts fight scene. Now, I love martial arts fight scenes. I have watched literally hundreds of martial arts movies. But if you’re going to stick one into an action/horror movie, you’d best be prepared to carry that approach through the whole flick. Alone in the Dark does not do this. The film begins with Carnby punching and kicking his way past a would-be assassin. There’s some business about unspecified “powers” or “enhancements” but neither is referenced in any meaningful way ever again. Same with the weapons used to combat the darkness creatures. There’s an entire scene devoted to explaining the technology and, one assumes, limitations of the armaments used by the government squad. You’d think this might come into play at some point too, but nope, never does.
Probably the worst sin Alone in the Dark commits is repeatedly electing to tell, rather than show. The movie opens with a scrolling text narration so long that it makes the Star Wars opening crawl look like it came from a fortune cookie. Additional bits of voice over exposition intersperse the film. Most of these involve an ancient civilization that encountered the shadow creatures years before. It might’ve been an interesting part of the story if it was actually developed to any degree, but apparently doing so would’ve cut into the gunplay too much. Honestly, Boll’s lopsided interest in the action over plot and characterization is so glaring that I wonder how it is that he never got into directing music videos. Such an endeavor would be vastly more suited to his skill set.
So, here I am again. Is Alone in the Dark a good film? Absolutely not. But is it one of the worst ever made? Eh, I don’t know. I’d definitely rate it higher than House of the Dead. The action is more polished, for one thing. Two thirds of the top billed cast are solid, so, perhaps in spite of itself, there are some kind-of developed characters that one can almost care about. Plus, I have to give it sympathy points for using Nightwish in the soundtrack. If nothing else, it’s encouraging to see Boll developing in the right direction, but at this rate I suspect it’ll still be many movies before he produces one that anyone could unequivocally call good.
Final Score: D+
The mere absence of failure is not success, and Alone in the Dark is Exhibit: A. I don’t regret watching it, but I’m sure not going out of my way to see it again.
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