JANUARY 19, 2012
One of my favorite underrated flicks in the past few years is Night Watch, which combined vampires with a more action/fantasy type story (the sequel, Day Watch, wasn’t as good, and I’m still bummed that they didn’t continue the series since there are four source novels and the two movies only covered the first). So I was kind of interested in Fading Of The Cries, because it sounded like a similar scenario albeit with zombies instead of vampires. Add in Brad Dourif (and the fact that it actually got a small theatrical release) and it should be a fun time-killer at worst, right?
Wrong. By telling a convoluted and yet uninteresting story via a constant stream of terrible VFX shots, almost nothing about the movie qualifies as “fun”. Any sane person would grow tired of seeing digital blood (and skies, and people, and pretty much everything else) before the first act was through, and the action isn’t even all that exciting – most of it is simply our hero (Jordan Matthews) running around and swinging a sword in the general direction of zombie/demon things, most of which appear to have been shot separately. Writer/director Brian Metcalf is seemingly under the impression that everything will look cooler if there’s a lot of it, so Matthews is constantly fighting off dozen of zombies at once while literally hundreds of them run around in the background. Unfortunately for him, he’s completely wrong – any discerning audience member would rather an actual fight with a handful of the things, WITHOUT the distracting, poorly composited extras in the background.
I mean, obviously this was not a big budgeted film – why stretch your production value even thinner by constantly adding in VFX that aren’t necessary? Nearly every shot of the sky in this movie seems to be added in via a demo copy of After Effects, which is just a distracting eyesore that adds nothing. Other elements are needlessly “enhanced” – at one point our heroes are at Disney’s Ranch a bit north of LA, an area I am familiar with because they shot part of Hatchet II there. I instantly recognized the bridge that housed a lot of the equipment during filming (the bridge itself doesn’t appear in the film – it’s next to the swamp where Ed Ackerman’s character got his face sliced off), and then laughed as I saw that they were trying to make it look 10x as long using cheap visual effects, and having the actors run over the same patch of it over and over again to make it seem longer than it actually is (which is about 100 feet). But why? If they’re trapped, what difference does it make how long it is? If anything the shorter length would actually be SCARIER – because there would be less room for them to maneuver.
However even if I was just sitting here reading the script I’d have problems, because the movie is all over the place. I knew we were in trouble early on, when we see Thomas Ian Nicholas drive up to a house, get out of his car, and walk inside. Some voiceover tells us that his wife and child had died and that he’s living there to try to get over it and also write his next book. Then we watch the opening credits, which are followed by a “14 years later” card. 14 years after a widower walked into a house? Who the hell cares? And like every other scene in the movie, it’s filled with ugly CGI skies and such, so lopping it off entirely could have not only strengthened the movie’s pace a bit, instead of starting it off so awkwardly, but also would have given these overworked FX guys either a break or more time to improve the other shots in scenes that DID serve a purpose.
Anyway, Nicholas dies in his “14 years ago” timeline, and thus for obvious reasons he never really interacts with our other heroes. The back and forth between the two storylines never has any motivation behind it, and since we know he’s dead from our first “present day” scene, they carry little interest once you know where they are going. He also narrates them for some reason, as if his story was supposed to be being learned via his journal or something, instead of just being edited into the narrative at random intervals. Most of his scenes involve him slowly walking around his house (“I heard a noise and decided to check it out”, voiceover Nicholas tells us, as his character hears a noise and decides to check it out) or breaking glasses of every sort – water glasses! Mirrors! Tumblers! Why his character’s magic powers seem to revolve entirely around glass is never explained, but I assume it’s just easier on the FX guys than having him break, I dunno, wood or something.
The villains don’t make a lot of sense, either. I never quite understood what evil wizard Dourif was trying to accomplish, but let’s just assume “Destroy the world!” for the sake of our sanity. But why does this require turning seemingly everyone in the town (except for our protagonists and their immediate friends) into zombies? What purpose did they serve in the grand scheme of things? And what’s with the girl with a white sock on her head? Also, he only appears in spurts, talking cryptically to our heroes and then disappearing again. A movie like this needs a villain that matches up to our heroes. Think The Matrix – Mr. Smith was just as interesting as Neo after a while. Dourif never gets that much to do – even Wormtongue had more of an arc and he wasn’t even the main villain!
Like many a fantasy film, at the center of the battle is an amulet, which is fine. The problem is, the amulet’s owner (Hailee Hirsh, cute but playing an obnoxious character) is phased out of the movie in favor of her younger sister, who is basically a glorified extra until the third act. Suddenly, Dourif kidnaps her and our hero goes off to save her while Hirsh – who we’ve been with for most of the movie – just stays home and (spoiler) dies along with her mom, a story point that might be grim or shocking if the story gave us any real reason to care about them beyond the fact that they were on-screen the longest. This results in what I would call the year’s weirdest closing shot if not for the fact that I’m one of the 14 people who have seen Beneath The Darkness.
I was also continually confused who the movie was made for. The R rating is for “bloody horror violence”, and while it’s certainly more graphic than Twilight, the fantasy feel and the fact that everyone is an anonymous zombie probably could have gotten them a PG-13 if they asked nicely. However there are also a couple of F-bombs, so they clearly weren’t TRYING for a PG-13, despite the teen-friendly story (it reminded me a bit of the Dungeons & Dragons movie on more than one occasion, in fact).
It did have a few moments of merit, however. Dourif is always a delight, even when I had no idea what the hell he was talking about (and despite the fact that his near-top billing suggested a lot more than his 10 minutes or so of screen time). There’s a cool “trapped in a barn” scene that uses an aggressive surround mix instead of the usual bad FX to sell the idea, something that the movie should have relied on more often. And there’s a weird little demon that looked kind of creepy (you can see it in the trailer, the one in the cornfield). Also, the movie sort of resembled a live-action anime at times, something that COULD be done well; I wouldn’t want to dissuade anyone from trying. Just make sure it’s better than this.
The disc contains the trailer for it as well as other Lionsgate properties, including Highlander 2. Word of advice – no one wants to be reminded of the existence of Highlander 2, ever, so putting it at the top of a disc is somewhat foreboding, as if you’re telling us to be prepared for massive disappointment. The only other extra is a making of, where everyone just talks about how great everyone/everything is, with Dourif praising his character’s dialogue (?) and Matthews hilariously revealing that he read “The Art Of War” to prepare for his one-note, shockingly uninteresting character. Well, beats reading the script I guess.
I hate knocking on ambitious movies – there’s a severe lack of them in the genre nowadays, and again, I think the blend of horror and fantasy is something that could be really cool when done right. But giving a pass to something merely for ATTEMPTING something unique doesn’t do anyone any good – if nothing else, you have to give your ambitious idea some real characters to bring it to life, or something that’s truly exciting on a visual level. This might work as a 6-8 issue comic miniseries, but a 90 minute film isn’t nearly enough to handle this many subplots and ideas, especially when half of it is devoted to mindless zombie “attack” scenes that pale in comparison to even a Syfy level movie.
What say you?