kicking off spooktoberfest ii i thought i pick something that’s not too far outside my comfort zone (read: action) yet considered horror. against the dark is that steven seagal vampire movie from 2009. unlike other action movie stars, seagal hasn’t really done any sci-fi/supernatural stuff, so it looks kind of promising.
but then i also read some other reviews of the movie and even most seagal fans hated it. the consensus is that it’s one of his worst movies. and that’s saying somthing consider his d-t-v outputs. as promising as it sounds, it’s not a steven seagal vampire movie. he’s actually not in the movie that much. and the things he’s fighting are not actually vampires. they are more like vampire/zombie mashup creatures.
against the dark opens with the word infect on screen and then gives us what looks like the dictionary definition of the word. there’s also a voiceover narration about the virus outbreak and just in case you lose interest already, the voiceover lady also ends the narration with the title of the movie, while the title is in huge letters on screen.
the movie focuses on six human survivors in an abandoned hospital who are…trying to find a way out of said hospital and something about a generator. they didn’t really spend much effort letting us know what they are trying to do, i mean, other than not getting infected. most scenes consist of these uninteresting people walking and walking and walking and getting trapped in rooms and punching vampazombies.
like commercial breaks, seagal and his team show up in the movie every once in a while so we don’t forget that this is an action movie too. it takes this team of “hunter” about an hour before they finally encounter the survivors in the hospital. probably because in the first two acts of the movie they always walk in slow motion. i guess they would rather look cool than getting to places on time. must be what they mean by fashionably late.
keith david (marked for death…etc) and linden ashby (johnny cage from mortal kombat: the movie) are wasted as military lieutenant and scientist, respectively. one intends on leveling the hospital so the infection and creatures can be contained while the other is against the bombing since he believes there are still civilians and hunters at the hospital, though i don’t know how he’s so sure about that. it’s kind of like in the rock when they thought nicolas cage and sean connery are dead so they might as well bomb alcatraz, except not as well thoughtout. david also has to say lines like “last i heard, i wasn’t retiring any time soon.” i guess it implies that he talks to himself.
of the two halves, the scifi section is obviously the one more cared for. i like that they are not the standard vampire or zombies. they bite like vampires but also eat guts like zombies. at one point they even talk and use psychological warfare (even though they are not smart enough to reach over to open doors). there are also enough blood and guts to satisfy horror fans. they are technically well done but for some reason they splice in shots of creatures and gore every time before they show up, so it doesn’t actually surprise you when they do. thanks for the heads ups.
the most memorable scene here is a woman sharpening her teeth before feasting on a hanging body. it’s kind of annoying that you don’t turn into a vampire automatically, you actually have to work at it after being infected.
the action scenes are shot as bad as any recent d-t-v movies, edited and shot and zoom in such a way that you don’t see anything hitting or slicing or punching anything. which is strange since seagal is already not in the movie that much, and he’s one of the producers of the movie. worse is the way he is framed most of the movie, maybe it’s to cover up the use of stunt doubles, we barely see his face or even half body, and usually hiding under shadows or in the dark. maybe it’s because shadow man was already used as a seagal movie title. and for a movie named against the dark, they sure love filming him in the dark. i’m getting kind of a mixed signal here, and i don’t think they meant the title to be ironic to the filmmaking technique. in addition to favoring the dark, he also wears a long black leather jacket the whole movie, hiding a shotgun and probably his expanding body.
of course, it wouldn’t be a steven seagal movie without some kind of philosophy thrown in. except in against the dark this aspect is also kind of conflicted. in the opening we see him and his team rescuing a kid from the creatures and he says:
“we’re not here to decide who’s right and who’s wrong, we’re here to decide who lives and who dies.”
since at this point in the movie we are thinking that the creatures are the usual movie vampires and/or zombies, the line doesn’t really applies here at all. i can see it being used in a purely action movie where the bad guys are say, terrorists. but it is used here between a kid and the creatures. i guess it would make sense if the kid say, rob the creatures and then the creatures come after him because of said robbery. but that didn’t happen in the movie. as far as the movie shows, these creatures are after him for his blood and guts. so the right/wrong issue is really irrelevant here.
it also sounds like something someone who worked for the government (maybe between 2000-2008?) would say. unlike most seagal movies though, they didn’t give him a former occupation. so i got kind of a chuckle when one of the survivors in the hospital says something about waiting for the hunters to show up, “some special force military guy or something.” i don’t know if it’s intentional but i’ll take it as such.
i hope he doesn’t keep the same motto on his lawman reality show.
yet later in the movie, he also claims that he’s seen it all, almost showing sympathy to the creatures by saying “people have to do whatever it takes to survive.” quite a different view from the right/wrong, live/die guy from the beginning of the movie. but maybe the got a job to do yet sympathetic view is the grey area that seagalogy is all about.
then of course, there’s part where one of the civilians asked seagal who he is and…well see it for yourself.
while seagal slacks off, they give him team members. there are two eastern european (the film is shot in romania) looking women in leather, probably have seen the matrixes, underworlds, and the resident evils. i think there may have been one line in the whole movie between the two of them (and they are only credited as attendant #1 and attendant #2). all they remind me of is the lawsuit against seagal (which has since been settled). to be fair, he does act sad when one of them was infected.
the standout in the movie is the other team member played by tanoai reed. you may not recognize the name but he’s been in the stepford wives remake, constantine, and priest (the non-catholic non-gay non-miramax one) so you probably won’t recognize him either. he’s actually the rock’s cousin and personal stuntman (and former american gladiator). he actually gets more action in the movie than seagal and he handles them well (though i’m not sure if that close range weapon around his wrists is the best way to kill vampire/zombie type creatures). it’s hard to say if he’s got the screen presence like the rock since the movie didn’t give him much of a chance to act but i wouldn’t mind seeing him in bigger roles. hey they should reboot fast five.
against the dark is an oddity in seagalogy. it will no doubt disappoint anyone who see it because of seagal: the action scenes are bad and he’s not in the movie that much, even though these are the main selling points. everyone refers to it as last night, which is probably the original title so they changed it to make it more obviously seagal-ish. it may also have something to do with this being his last movie with sony, kind of like when a band put out a greatest hits or b-sides album to fulfill a contract. it’s not as slick and proper as born to raise hell or as fun as today you die or out for a kill. on the other hand it does kind of works as a low budget d-t-v horror movie. it doesn’t really do anything groundbreaking and follows some of the vampire/zombie movie rules, but it adds just enough to be passable. those civilians may be boring but at least they didn’t annoy the fuck out of me like some other horror movies or zombie movies (diary of the dead). considering the trailers on the dvd includes things like the grudge 3, wrong turn 2, and screamers: the hunting, it’s not as bad as most reviews led you to believe.
p.s. the guy who does seagal’s voice finally gets a credit.