Dark Country (2009)

SEPTEMBER 22, 2009


“Flying in!”

That was Ryan Rotten’s text response at this past spring’s Fangoria convention when I alerted him to the awesomeness he was missing at the Mutant Chronicles panel featuring a quite "animated" Tom Jane. Since Rotten was there to chat directly with filmmakers in order to get scoops for his site, he wasn’t often sitting in the panels, but the power of Jane compelled him. Likewise, I’m pretty sure he jumped at the chance to talk to Jane for his new film Dark Country, as I did (which is why I got the DVD - I find it’s much easier to talk to talent about their films when you’ve actually seen them, which is part of why I hate interviewing people at Comic Con). Jane rules.

I’ve been a fan of the guy for over a decade now, and it bums me out that he never really hit it as a marquee star. I hope Hung is doing well (don’t have HBO), because the guy deserves more than starring in junk like, well, Mutant Chronicles, and seeing his ambitious efforts like Dark Country going direct to DVD.

Even worse, the film is supposed to be in 3D, and no one is likely to ever see it that way. The Sin City-esque green-screen visuals have a unique look to them (since 80% of the movie takes place in a moving car, it probably would have been shot green-screen anyway - might as well make it part of the visual motif), and I can’t help but wonder how cool it would have looked in 3D. And Sony has effectively buried this aspect of the production on the DVD, it’s not mentioned in the making of, and the commentary goes noticeably silent whenever the talk turns technical (most telling, Jane begins to say “Not only was I starring and directing, but- (30 seconds of obvious silence) - So we shot this in Albuquerque...” (they did miss one brief mention of the 3D camera though, and the end credits still list all of the various 3D wizards and companies whose work will never be seen).

As for the movie itself, well, it’s OK. Like most 3D movies that are DESIGNED for 3D, you’ll sort of feel like you’re missing something. Jane and Lauren German are a just married couple who accidentally hit a guy with their car, and the rest of the film deals with the consequences and bickering you’ve come to expect from any other “Uh oh we hit someone let’s cover it up” storyline. The requisite twist won’t blow your mind if you’re paying attention (or have seen any other twist movies in the past decade), but it’s well played all the same.

Jane is a surprisingly good director - his style and sensibilities elevate the fairly predictable script. It might take you a few minutes to get used to the noir style (especially with a pretty laughable voiceover starting things off), but it was a great choice, and even when you see the whole plot coming, the visuals will keep you interested. I only wish he hadn’t gone for the whole “let’s make everything look like it’s the 50s” thing - it’s been overplayed (and with a cell phone and modern police cars, it’s not even consistent) and probably takes time/money out of the production. Yeah, it’s fine to give your hero a cool 1950s (or 60s, I’m not very good at cars) automobile - but did they need to design/produce a retro looking soda and machine and have everyone wear fedoras?

The script definitely has highlights though. Apparently it was written a while ago (the film was shot in 2007), so I can forgive some of the familiarity anyway, but some of the dialogue snaps (when burying a body, Jane says “We need to make the hole longer.” German’s response is “Can’t we just make him shorter?”). I also love the bit where the pair clean each other of blood/dirt with a handful of rest stop napkins. And while I may be tired of this particular twist, it’s at least set up in a way that can make a 2nd viewing enjoyable, which is more than I can say for some of the others.

Also there’s a scene where Jane suspects German might have been taken and he stumbles upon a grave. Digging it up a bit, he discovers that it’s not her but another woman. Not only is this creepy, but it gave me a funny idea for a scene where a guy goes out to the desert to bury a body (a hooker he accidentally killed, or maybe his domineering mother), and after he digs the hole the mob comes out to bury some snitch, and offers our guy some money to use his hole so they can get back to town quicker. If you’re a screenwriter, please don’t steal my idea. It’s one of the only two good ones I’ve had recently.

They might have denied us the 3D, but Sony/Stage 6 at least gave us some extras instead of the usual barebones approach to long-delayed and eventually DTV movies. Unfortunately I’ve already mentioned them (the featurette and the commentary) so I don’t have much more to say on the matter. It is interesting that while Jane provides the commentary, he doesn’t appear in the making of, despite the presence of the other 2 principal actors, a few of the producers, the storyboard artist, etc. There is also a bonus feature of sorts on the DVD cover, which features some sort of robotic, green-eyed version of Tom Jane instead of anything resembling the real guy. Maybe it looks correct in 3D.

Oh, one final note. The box advertises Ron Perlman (and strangely lists him as being from Hellboy II, which Universal put out, instead of Hellboy I, which was Sony’s entry), but he’s only in the final 10 minutes or so. In fact, touting his appearance is sort of a spoiler (the film has no opening credits), so if you watch it, do so without looking at the DVD cover or reading this review.

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