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Alone in the Dark   F

Lions Gate Films / Boll KG Productions

Year Released: 2005
MPAA Rating: R
Director: Uwe Boll
Writers: Elan Mastai, Michael Roesch, Peter Scheerer
Cast: Christian Slater, Tara Reid, Stephen Dorff, Frank C. Turner, Mathew Walker, Will Sanderson, Mark Acheson, Darren Shahlavi.

Review by Rob Vaux

Wow.

I mean it... he... they... and then it started and...

Wow.

To call Alone in the Dark a failure is an insult to failures everywhere. The totality of its incompetence has rarely been exceeded, even by the most fumbling and desperate filmmakers. It's a ruptured appendix of a movie, spewing toxic chemicals upon everything it touches. The other practitioners of cinematic drivel can rest a little easier now; they can walk in the daylight with their heads held high, a smile on their lips and a song in their hearts. "It's okay," they'll tell themselves. "I didn't make Alone in the Dark."

The credits claim that the concept started as a popular video game. I'm skeptical of this. Instead, I maintain that it started as a bar bet. As in, "Bet you I can write 96 straight minutes of plot exposition." Every line is intended to deliver some new piece of vital information. Every. Single. Line. No character development, no witty banter, no coherence. Just an endless barrage of, "Here's what we're doing now and why." It wouldn't be so bad if it actually clarified anything, but the story here is as impenetrable as the Dead Sea Scrolls. Each new description piles up on the one preceding it, until they all jumble together in a great pile. You find yourself simultaneously praying that someone will explain what's happening for you, and dreading the results when they do.

I will attempt, to the best of my ability, to recount the plot. There is a world of darkness beyond ours, filled with bad things that will gobble us up if they get the chance. Ten thousand years ago, an advanced tribe of Indians opened a doorway to their realm; the Indians closed it again, but not before the bad things had wiped out their entire civilization. (How they could close a gate after they had been wiped out is unclear, but no matter.) Here in the 21st century, a government agency called Bureau 713 is tasked with fighting the remaining bad things that have stuck around all this time. In their free time, they kidnap orphans and subject them to murky experiments involving alien parasites and spinal cords. One such orphan, with the unlikely name of Edward Carnby (Christian Slater), gets overlooked at some pivotal moment and grows up to become a hunter of the paranormal. Or so the voice-over assures us.

Director Uwe Boll posits Carnby less as a scholar or investigator than as an action hero. Which is fine. There's nothing wrong with this. Except that the action scenes arrive so inexplicably and with so few identifying features than you begin wishing Carnby would stick to desk work. Wire-fu and CGI bullets are all well and good, but Alone in the Dark assembles them into a chaotic hash devoid of style or grace. They seem to exist because the director thought they'd look cool, without once considering how they should connect with the rest of the picture. Not that there's much to connect with anyway. Carnby eventually teams up with his old buddies at 713, though the purpose of doing so is perennially vague: to stop the bad things before they break through the gate, I think. Anything more specific than that -- though constantly clarified in the tin-ear dialogue -- is a mystery.

So too does the structure of Alone in the Dark instantly descend to lobotomy levels. Chop-shop editing, a musical score that sounds like it was borrowed from another movie, a supporting cast that comes and goes without rhyme or reason... presumably, there's a point to it all, but nothing identifiable as such ever emerges. Even the hero's name becomes a bad joke, stumbling across the tongue like bricks on a running track. "Carnby, get out of here," "Carnby, it's 713's case now," "Carnby, you'd better be sure of this." Every time it's used, it evokes an awkward combination of laughter and discomfort -- which, as the film sinks deeper and deeper into oblivion, is the only scrap of entertainment to be found.

Watching the actors suffer through this dreck is perhaps the most painful of all. Miscasting and phoned-in performances abound (they can put Tara Reid in the smart-girl glasses all they like; it's still not going to sell her as an archaeologist), and while the cast hopefully got paid for it, it won't be easy to face their friends and loved ones after this is over. The three stars (Slater, Reid, and Stephen Dorff as 713's chief... um... monster-killing guy) have seen better days, but I'd like to think they could still do something classier and more dignified than this. Like gay porn.

For a critic, films of this ilk actually come as a blessing in disguise. They set everything else in context, reminding those of us who complain about bad movies what "bad" truly means. The next film you see can't help but look better in comparison, no matter its flaws or foibles. That may be Alone in the Dark's sole useful purpose: it cleanses the cinematic palate, flushing out all previous notions of incompetence and resetting the bar at a universally recognized nadir. It's important to do that every once in a while, though the process of sitting through such a nadir is unpleasant in the extreme.

Then again, critics get paid to see movies this dreadful. The rest of the world has now been duly warned.

Review published 01.28.2005.

IMDb | buy it at Amazon.com

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