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Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Steven Seagal Against the Dark Review (Text)

So far this month, this Blog has been viewed a grand total of 1,346 times. The most viewed article I have written, by far, still remains the review I did of the Steven Seagal Legacy DVD Boxset, with an incredible 697 page views. Hell, just look at the keywords searched that most often link people to the site, and you start to see a clear pattern emerge:

Seagal is still as popular as ever. Look at those search results – it’s as though nearly everyone who visits this site comes here because they wanted to see something Seagal related! In light of this, and the fact that despite how hard I try, an article I wrote way back in April is still getting countless more views than any of my newer stuff, I have decided to dedicate another review to the Seagal fanboys out there. This one’s for you, guys!


Against the Dark is a straight-to-DVD Seagal vampire horror movie which was released last year, and it only has a rating of 3.4 on IMDB. Then again, given they have The Dark Knight ranked as being the 11th best film ever, and Inception having the same score as Godfather Part 2, I think we can take the rating on there with a pinch of salt.

Obviously, this was filmed with a very low budget. That goes without saying. The budget is listed on IMDB as being $9 million, and you can bet at least $2 million of that was Seagal’s salary. But, with that in mind, I was pleasantly surprised with this movie, and I’ll tell you why.

First off, whilst the movie was advertised as being a vampire film, I suspect that you would get the most benefit from this if you viewed it as more of a zombie film, because this is essentially what it is. It starts with an explanation of how the “infection” spread, and sets up the apocalyptic backdrop to the movie, in which small groups of survivors are forced to hold out against hordes of the creatures. In fact, as far as I can tell, the only reason the creatures are referred to as Vampires rather than Zombies in the advertising is because they can’t go out in the sunlight. So, in order to get the full benefit of this film, watch it as though it is a low budget zombie film. If you do this, and if you’re into that style of film, then I think you’ll probably enjoy it a lot more than you would otherwise.

With this in mind, then, the movie unfolds really nicely. It’s a stereotypical zombie flick in terms of plot, with a couple of groups of survivors banding together inside a hospital to get medicine, and make it out before the generators run out of power, and it is relatively suspenseful throughout. Obviously, there are bits which make you cringe a little; poor dialogue or acting, an unrealistic plot turn, but for the most part it is very enjoyable, and much better than some far bigger budget movies. I am thinking of one in specific here. A movie which IMDB gives a rating of 7.1, but which I felt was inferior to Against the Dark. I am, of course, talking about the Will Smith extravaganza, I Am Legend.

You see, in my opinion, Against the Dark is essentially what I Am Legend SHOULD have been. From the very start, we see that the zombie/mutant/vampire creatures show signs of intelligence. We see one cut the throat of a human victim she has strung-up, upside down, and collect the blood in a cup, from which she drinks. This use of tools, and demonstrations of intelligence become more and more apparent throughout the movie, until we realize that the creatures can think and speak, just as humans do. One of the characters in the film even says “if we’re the only ones left, and everyone else is infected, then we’re the monsters now”. For those of you who have read the book I Am Legend, you’ll realize that this was the entire point of the story: The title refers to the fact that he is the legend in their stories, the monster who kidnaps their children, their friends, and experiments on them. The film I Am Legend completely fucked this up, and gave it a generic “hero” ending, and that is why I would rank Against the Dark as the superior film; it is the film I Am Legend was meant to be, before Hollywood fucked it up, as they so often do.

Too right.

There is no doubt in my mind that some people will see this as a bad thing – the movie stole the most significant part of its plot from elsewhere. But to be honest with you, I’m glad. Someone had to do the basic premise of I Am Legend justice, and if it couldn’t be done with a $150 million budget, I’m glad someone could do it on $9 million.

On top of that, I personally enjoyed the effects in Against the Dark a lot more than I did I Am Legend. The reason for this is simple; they looked a lot more convincing. Why? Make-up, prosthetics, and buckets of fake blood. Against the Dark does everything old-school. In total, I think there were about 10 digital effects shots in the whole movie, and 9 of them came right at the end. I Am Legend, on the other hand, relied too much on digital effects, which led to creatures which were about as realistic as, and very reminiscent of, the mummies in “The Mummy” (Brendan Fraser version), which cost 100 times as much as the ones in Against the Dark. Again, some people will probably complain about how essentially the monsters in this were just “extras running around with fake teeth in, and fake blood all over them”. I would just like to say that I much prefer this to creating the creatures digitally, and I think we need to go back to this old-school style film making. As I said in my review of The Dark Knight, digital effects just aren’t as convincing as make-up effects. Besides, I’m perfectly happy to watch Romero’s original Dawn of the Dead, and the zombies in that are far less realistic looking than they are in this, so no complaints from me on the effects front!

Old-School effects are clearly the best.

Whilst the characters aren’t exactly brilliantly written; you have the typical overly scared woman, the slightly over-confident kid, the hard man, the stoner, the guy who doesn’t want to be a hero but total will end up being one, and a slightly less scared woman, they all work quite well together, and most of the interactions seem relatively realistic, if a little forced. The acting isn’t brilliant, but then, what do you expect on a low budget horror flick? The last truly decent low budget film to come out was probably SAW, and Monica Potter was absolutely shit in that. Cringe-inducingly bad. Yet we were still able to look past it, and appreciate the story. No-one in this film is as bad at acting as Monica Potter, despite the fact the most famous person in this other than Seagal is Keith David. Oh, you don’t know who he is? He was the black cop running the negotiations in Transporter 2, and he does a load of voices for video games. Honestly, I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again; how the fuck does Monica Potter get work? She’s shit!

"I'm sure some people would say the same about Seagal!" "Yeah, pussies."

Other than Keith David, the only familiar non-Seagal face in this movie is Danny Midwinter, who turns up on British TV every now and then (he was in Lewis, and I have a feeling he may have been in Doctor Who as well, but can’t be sure). But regardless of how unknown most of the actors are, they perform admirably, and for the most part their performances are fairly believable.

The direction in the movie’s pretty good as well. Quite a few of the shots are clearly done with a long lens, so we get some cool shots where the focus will shift, and there are some fairly inventive shots as well; looking in mirrors, then panning round to follow the characters round a corner, etc.

But, of course, what you really paid to see is the ACTION:

Holy Shit - Seagal's in Machete??? Why wasn't I told? I know what I have to go and see next!

Just as a warning from the get-go: Seagal isn’t in this film that much. The movie mainly focuses on the survivors trying to escape from the hospital, whereas Seagal plays a “hunter” trying to get in and kill any infected he finds. Still, it cuts to Seagal often enough that you feel it is still a Seagal film, even though he’s not the lead, and when he is on screen, the action’s usually pretty good.

Though obviously not THIS good...

Although there’s not much Aikido shown in the movie; Seagal only goes hand-to-hand right near the end, there are plenty of scenes of Seagal and his pals cutting swathes through hordes of infected with their samurai swords and knives. There are some pretty badass moments involving Tanoai Reed, who looks a bit like The Rock (in so far as I'm fairly sure he's Samoan), and apparently played the bouncer at the Midnite club in Constantine. My favourite of these happens near the start where he puts his hands through the glass in a window, grabs an infected, and pulls his head, neck and upper-torso through the window space, before sticking a knife in his chest, then snapping his neck. It looks exactly like the sort of thing Sam Fisher would do in one of the later Splinter Cell games, and is fucking Bitchin’! The scenes where Seagal gets his shotgun out also had me cheering, too.

He certainly looks better with a shotgun than a guitar, THAT'S for sure.

On the subject of Seagal, it should be noted that, as with Attack Force, he did not return to do the ADR voice recordings after the movie was wrapped, so is dubbed in a couple of scenes, mostly the ones where you can’t see him speak. However, unlike Attack Force, you can’t tell it isn’t him in this film (his character hardly speaks, being a badass hunter, and his voice has changed so much anyway you just kind of accept the differences without thinking about it).

That’s about all I can say about the movie, really. There are a couple of good twists where you are expecting one thing to happen, then something different does, and not to ruin too much, but the scenes with the French Doctor in are creepy as shit, and add another layer to the film, making it more than just a zombie-flick. Some of the choice in editing bothered me a little, for example cutting to gore-shots where they weren’t really necessary, but other than that, I really quite enjoyed this movie.

If you’re into Seagal-style action films and low-budget zombie flicks, then this film is definitely for you. Or, if you were upset the book I Am Legend was ruined by the film, why not watch this and see what could have been? It doesn’t have the loneliness and the journey through the human mind the Will Smith version did, but at least it’s got the right ending. Enjoy!



3 Stars

Not amazing, but good fun, and great for a cheesy low budget horror. Hell, great for a low budget Seagal film to - and more fun to watch than a lot of Blockbusters to have come out recently. I wouldn't say I prefer this to the Saw movies, but i would definitely recommend it over The Hurt Locker, Iron Man 2, and so on. But then, I'm a Seagal fan - we're as bad as furries when it comes to defending our hobby - so don't just take my advice, do what you think is best for you!


For more Seagal-related Goodness, be sure to check back in the next time I raid the movie bargain bin at ASDA.

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