Against the Dark (2009)

Another senseless vampire film, this time courtesy of Steven Seagal who not only stars in this straight-to-DVD film but is also one of the producers.

 

In his stand-up routine about Steven Seagal’s post-2002-oeuvre (Thom Tuck Goes Straight to DVD, episode 1), Thom Tuck stipulates what he calls “seven Commandments for PMS films” (= Post-Millennial Seagal). Depending on your exegesis of Tuck’s commandments, I believe five of these are adhered to in Against the Dark:

  • I        The film shall have a pretty vague title
  • II       Steven Seagal shall play a character who is emotionally unavailable (which has nothing whatsoever to do with his acting skills)
  • III      Steven Seagal shall play a character who used to be something else
  • IV      Nobody shall punch Steven Seagal
  • VI      If possible, the film’s plot must turn on the flimsiest of fulcra (i. e.: the plot must be stupid)

 

 

After the outbreak of an epidemic which turned most people into vampires, a group of survivors tries to find a way to safety. They run into a group of freelance vampire hunters, led by Steven Seagal’s character.

And that is where the plot basically ends. The rest is a succession of pointless fight scenes.

The world-building in this film is passable, mostly achieved through a decently narrated intro and forced bits of dialogue throughout. It is probably also easy for an audience to find its way into this world, because it is basically a clone of the world in which 28 Days Later is set. That kind of scenario is a well-established one in pop culture and in a way that may help with the world-building. But the plot’s premise is stupid: numerous people walk into a building, yet it is near impossible, we are told, to get out of it. And the plot as such is stupid, because none of the characters seem to have a clear plan or, if they have one, none of their actions and decisions contribute to its fruition.

Of course, humans hunted by monsters often make the wrong decision or take the wrong turns, that is a common genre trope. But in this film it is also the actions of the vampire hunters (allegedly trained killers and ex-soldiers) which are completely pointless and self-defeating.

 

Moreover, it is the vampires who act without much of a plan as well. In fact, it is barely conceivable why some of them run around like braindead (though fast) zombies, while others act almost like humans. The film addresses these inconsistencies, which probably exist in order to bring some variation and pretend-depth to the plot, by adding vague bits of dialogue along the lines of “we evolve”, or “she is the next step in evolution”, etc. – but none of that is explained or is, in fact, of any consequence to the plot.

It is not even really clear if these infected beings are actually vampires. As I have said in another review, by going down the “vampirism-is-a-disease” route film-makers get themselves into all sorts of trouble. In this case, we can (again) ask: is the name “vampire” chosen arbitrarily? Could these not be “zombies”. And again we reach a point where this film’s premise is not too different from that of the T-Virus in Resident Evil, and we are deep in zombie territory. In fact, imdb lists the extras playing the infected beings as zombies. Whereas a character in this film says of the infected: “They are not vampires, they are mutants”. On the other hand, these “mutants” apparently cannot stand the daylight….

Just to be on the safe side and cover all bases, imdb lists the keywords “mutant”, “zombie” and “vampire” for Against the Dark, while the summary provided by a user talks of “vampire zombies”.

 

Apart from this careless (and increasingly common) blurring of sub-genres, the film has, of course, some plot holes and other flaws. Apart from running all over the place apparently without a plan, the vampire hunters fight against these beings, who are carrying a highly infectious disease, with swords and daggers and make sure that they splash plenty of blood all over the place whenever they kill one of the infected. Of course, their outfit does not include even the most basic items of precaution. No gloves, no face masks, no protective collars – not even a teensy bottle of antiseptic liquid.

The score music is cheap and at times ill-fitting. And as for the acting… well… The actors playing the survivors all do a decent job, but are of course not able to overcome the lack of a decent script. There is no character development, and the relationship between several of these characters seem random. When it comes to the infected beings, these often have nothing more to do but grunt and howl and run fast. They are played for the most part by Romanian extras.

As for the hunters: they do nothing more than walk around the place and engage in some fights, many of which are not exactly shining examples of choreography. Steven Seagal, who by 2009 was well into his Fat-Elvis phase, is joined by two male actors, one of whom (Tanoi Reed) does most of the fighting, and two female actors who seem to be silent for the entire run of the film. Some fight scenes excepted, all these people do is follow Seagal wherever he goes and it looks very much like this was the only piece of direction they ever got. They have no function in this film. All they do is make sure that the space around Seagal does not look so empty. And by taking over most of the fights, Reed makes sure the 57-year-old Seagal does not overtax himself. Seagal merely walks here and there and waves his sword around. And in those scenes in which his character is involved in physical confrontation, he is apparently mostly replaced by a stunt-man, according to imdb: “Steven Seagal only appears in the movie for 24 minutes, the rest of the scenes were from his body/stunt double, who appears in the majority of the movie”.

 

As I have already pointed out, I do not like the script. Not only are the premise and the plot stupid, but it also contains dismal lines of dialogue. But there are some things the film does right, apart from the aforementioned adequate world-building. The practical effects are rather good, even though they are only employed to add unnecessary amounts of extra gore. There is at least one CG effect, and although it is far from good, I find it adequate for a 2009 straight-to-DVD project. Most importantly, the sets and locations fit the world we have been presented through the world-building. They look the part and help to create a suitable atmosphere for the film. It is all a bit of a carbon copy of 28 Days Later, but still, at least they pulled it off nicely.

 

All-in-all, Against the Dark is a completely unnecessary film. If you like the 28 Day Later type of films and have run out of other options, than maybe you can try this one, but my recommendation is that you give this film a miss. The imdb rating average currently stands at 3.2, but for me this film is a 1.0 or 1.5 out of 10. I’d rather watch a well-intentioned yet ill-conceived trainwreck with a decent basic idea than such a straight-to-video clone without soul.

 

 

PS: If you don’t mind 100% spoiler content (and why should you with a film like this), then you can read the highly amusing scene-by-scene breakdown of Against the Dark at horrorview.com.
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