" You’re here for rock bottom you absolute horror of a human being "
— Greg Kinnear, As Good As it Gets

MRQE Top Critic

Force Majeure

Little fights turn into big fights when couples use their emotions as weapons —Marty Mapes (review...)

An avalanche is a Force Majeure

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Movies based on video games have a guaranteed market, so producers keep making them. The question that remains is why reputable actors keep agreeing to star in them. Alone in the Dark will do for Christian Slater what Super Mario Brothers did for Bob Hoskins, what Street Fighter did for Raul Julia, and what Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever did for Antonio Banderas.

Shoot ‘em Up

Video game plot: shoot as many beasts as you can
Video game plot: shoot as many beasts as you can

Judging from the movie, the point of the video game must be to shoot as many semi-transparent, armored, catlike creatures as possible before they overwhelm you with their sheer numbers.

Tacked on to this mind-numbing activity are several stories. One involves ancient evil held in check by the golden artifacts of forgotten Native Americans. Another story involves 20 orphans who, in 1968, were the subject of cruel experiments by “Bureau 713,” the paranormal-investigative branch of the U.S. military. Another story involves the experiments of a mad anthropologist whose curiosity drives him to unleash the ancient evil on modern civilization.

Standing in front of all this is our hero Carnby (Slater), a former Bureau 713 agent who burned out, and who is now a civilian paranormal consultant. Helping him is his beautiful, young, blonde, brilliant anthropologist girlfriend, Aline (Tara Reid).

No “There” There

I suppose a gifted screenwriter could make something out of all these elements. But Alone in the Dark feels like it wasn’t even scripted (Elan Mastai, Michael Roesch, Peter Scheerer get screenwriter credits. None of them have any experience prior to 2000’s MVP 2, the movie about the skateboarding chimp).

The worst thing about the script is that there is no subtext. There is no moral. There is no cultural observation. There is no substance to it in any realm above the visceral. And there isn’t even much visceral excitement, either. If the movie had any calories, the script guarantees they would be empty.

An 8-paragraph introduction is read by a narrator before the first shot of the movie. This shows a complete disdain for filmed storytelling. And the contradictory statements in adjacent sentences shows the same disdain for logic. If only a few artifacts remain of a Native American tribe lost in the mists of time, how can we know in such detail what they believed about spirits, gateways, fears and beasts?

Outsider’s View

Alone in the Dark has an odd texture to it. It feels a little like a Jackie Chan movie, but without the stunts. Think of Rumble in the Bronx, with its naive notions of what New York City looks like. It’s clearly made by a non-American, trying to look American.

We never know exactly where Alone in the Dark is supposed to take place, but it’s hard to fathom what modern steel-and-glass city still has an ice-block manufacturer or a port where private ship owners post guards with rifles. Still harder to imagine is a government agency devoted to paranormal investigations, whose most senior officer is a 30-year-old hothead (Stephen Dorff), and whose officers are armed and armored better than the U.S. army in Iraq.

I’m not complaining that the movie isn’t “realistic,” because clearly that style isn’t called for. I’m just pointing out that although we might assume the story takes place in America, it seems like a naive, video-game view of the world.

The director is German filmmaker Uwe Boll. Aside from his German work, Boll directed House of the Dead, which has the distinction of being the 28th worst movie on the Internet Movie Database (as of January 2005), just between Leonard Part 6 and Battlefield Earth.

Alone in the Dark probably isn’t as bad as those. But I can’t think of a reason to recommend it, nor an audience to recommend it to.