APRIL 25, 2012
For most of Hell’s Labyrinth (formerly Carnivorous), I was watching under the assumption that our characters were trapped in a video game, so the bad FX and repetitive action scenes weren’t really bugging me – I thought it was part of the point. So when we learn that it’s not a game (which was just my random theory, by the way – it wasn’t hinted at in the actual film) but another dimension and that our heroes were keeping ancient demons at bay so they didn’t enter our world, I had to take one of the few things out of this movie’s “Pro” column and put it under “Con”.
This entire movie (save 2-3 brief scenes at the beginning and end) was shot in front of a greenscreen, not unlike Sin City or Sky Captain. When done well, it can give the film a unique and highly stylish look, and add to its value. When done poorly, it can look like this movie, which suffers from poor compositing and lighting throughout, so that the effect is nothing more than a constant distraction with no in-film payoff (i.e. if it was a video game or at least something that was SUPPOSED to be fake). The characters are lit completely different than their (often bland) backgrounds, and on more than one occasion the actors are clearly walking at a different speed than the computer generated background has been programmed to shift. To use the technical term, it looks like ass.
The editing is also problematic, which is funny because the movie is 7 minutes shorter than the back of the DVD promises (yay!). So many scenes go on forever when they were barely necessary anyway; there’s this lengthy montage of our final two heroes planning their final battle when all it amounts to is opening a door and waving a stone around. At one point the heroine looks at the hero as if he was saying something really important (or about to tell him as much), but nothing happens – they just stare awkwardly at each other for 30 seconds before they return to the task at hand. There’s no romantic angle or anything, so I have no idea what this is about. Even establishing scenes go on too long – I would imagine that a real editor would have produced a cut of this movie that ran no more than 60 minutes, so they simply left in a bunch of filler and let everything drag just to make their promised runtime. And they still came up 7 minutes short!
Another problem is the creatures, which all look alike and aren’t even that interesting to begin with. Again, if this was a game it’d be OK – all video games have rather uninspired looking monsters that you have to fight again and again (think The Heartless in Kingdom Hearts, or maybe the generic zombies in Ghosts n Goblins), and you can’t really complain about it – it’s part of the territory. But the plot of this movie is more or less one long chase scene, which means that the only thing that can really distinguish one from the other (since the backgrounds are 95% “ugly brown/gray hallway”) would be a variety of creatures, but no! Not only are they all the same things that sort of look like Blackheart from the Ghost Rider comics (except with yellow eyes instead of red), but director/writer/editor (etc, etc) Drew Maxwell even seems to be recycling shots of them running in closeup down one of those damn hallways. Christ, at least give them varying colored eyes from scene to scene or something so that a viewer could mentally process a difference. Even at the end, when you assume you’ll see something new, we’re just given a BUNCH of them at once, plus one that I think is just a bigger version but it might have just been a poorly scaled shot.
And it’s a bummer because the concept is actually kind of fun – it’s basically Saw II, except instead of Jigsaw’s whims, these folks have been sent to this dungeon as a sacrifice to keep these demons’ bloodlust in check so that they don’t break free of their dimension and start hunting folks on Earth. And like Saw II, we get the impression that our main characters aren’t exactly model citizens: a junkie, a thief, a young kid who murdered his sister (?!?!), etc. Oddly, our main character isn’t given the benefit of such strong characterization – her car breaks down and the “Guardian” guy takes her (maybe I just missed something there?). Obviously the idea that our heroes are being used to keep even worse things from getting us is a valid one (if you’re a good genre fan you know what I’m referring to), but the above problems keep the movie unfortunately planted in “good idea, bad execution” territory.
At least the kills are decent. After yesterday’s ode to off-screen carnage, it was nice to see a movie that breaks up its monotony with a scalping, a few impalements, a beheading… nothing that would make you forget the kills in Hatchet or anything Savini’s ever done, but reasonably well staged and bloody, and pretty much the only highlight the movie really offers. It’s funny though – yesterday’s movie was shot in 3D and had no reason to be – THIS one might have been a bit more enjoyable with the gimmick enabled. Even as a convert, it would at least make up for the nonsensical background/foreground separation, and it actually had some on-screen action. Not to mention depth in the rare bits of non violent action, such as when our remaining heroes have to cross a bottomless (?) pit via a bunch of swinging chains (you can see why I thought this was all a video game) – it would have added to the “thrill” with seeing the chains in different spaces along the Z axis. But alas, no.
As the credits rolled, I noticed that Maxwell had a crew of maybe 4-5 other folks for pretty much every other important role on the set and in post (at least, the ones he didn’t do himself). It’s an ambitious film for that small of a crew, and I laud them for even getting it finished – but there’s a reason that most movies have dedicated crew members for each major role instead of wearing five or six hats each: they can focus on doing the best possible job on that task, instead of dividing their energy among several. Granted, in a small independent-ish production, that might not always be possible, but just because they were able to do this with a small crew doesn’t magically make the movie that more enjoyable or satisfying.
What say you?
P.S. One of the few credits not attributed to the core team was for a behind the scenes documentary – it’s not on the DVD, however. A pity; the film itself is junk but I would love to watch how it came together with such a small group.