Rise: Blood Hunter seems to be the official title of this film, but for some reason it is listed on imdb simply as Rise. I caught this film by coincidence on TV a couple of weeks ago. Since then I have browsed through its imdb listing, and apparently there is an “unrated” cut of this film, roughly 25 minutes longer than the cut I saw. And that cut is not only said to be longer, but also significantly re-edited. So I want to make it clear that what I am reviewing here is – in all likelihood – the R-rated version, or a TV cut that is very close to the R-rated version.
Sadie Blake is a sort of investigative tabloid journalist, who recently has been taking a closer look at some rather obscure sub-cultures and their raves. When a girl she met during her investigation dies, and one of her colleagues fails to turn up for work, Sadie starts to do a little more digging, but she soon gets herself into trouble.
Rise was written and directed by Sebastian Gutierrez, who wrote Gothika and co-wrote the screenplay for Snakes on a Plane. Rise has been described by some as “neo-noir”, but I didn’t get much of a noir vibe from this film. For me, this is basically a vampire hunter film. The obsessive, unwavering manner in which our heroine pursues her goal has a faint Kill Bill vibe to it, but there are no action set pieces here, and there is no fun or any visual aspects that one could liken in any way to Tarantino.
The writing is good, we get a very definite idea what kind of presonalities our two leads are, even though we learn next to nothing about their lives. The dialogue is OK, but unfortunately there are a number of one-line-jokes which feel like they have later been shoe-horned into the script. The premise and the plot are solid, if not necessarily brand-new. The story itself and the narration are also kind of solid, but there are also some problems: it is not always clear what information Sadie has, or wherefrom; and there are one or two scenes where you keep wondering why she has not called the police. In the second act, she meets some sort of mentor, who seems to have a large back-story of his own which is hinted at but never developed. Similarly, Sadie learns at one point that a third party may be using her as a pawn to achieve their own goals, but this is never brought up again; and Sadie never bothers to find out if this is true or takes even a moment to think about what this means for her past and future actions.
All these shortcomings made me feel that some scenes may have been shortened, or even be missing completely, and now that I know that there is a significantly longer cut out there (which some have speculated to be a director’s cut by another name), I am sure that many of these problems are more down to the editing than the writing.
The fight scenes in this film are decent, but they are short and unglamorous. And the sets are very limited, mostly indoors: in tight, generic rooms with very sparse decoration. All of this hints at a very restricted budget, which is kind of counter-intuitive given that the two lead actors cannot have been that cheap. So one could speculate if this film had its original budget cut by the studio – during production, but before shooting. It certainly feels a bit that way. Throughout, Rise feels like a film that should be bigger, but isn’t.
Talking of the cast: having Lucy Liu in the leading role is certainly a big get for any film, and you cannot help wondering if Liu was not “too big” for this kind of project. Seeing that imdb claims this to be Liu’s first true horror outing, it may be possible that she took the role because she wanted to branch out into horror. I mention this, specifically, because there are one or two short moments of body-horror in which Liu delivers a very impressive performance.
The other main character in the film is a police officer played by Michael Chiklis. He has far less screen-time than Liu, but his character is a lead character for me in the sense that he carries a second (mostly off-screen) storyline that runs parallel to Sadie’s and collides with hers later in the film.
Most of the bad guys in this film are not all that remarkable, although James D’Arcy as the head villain is very good at delivering the pseudo-philosophical lines the writer has in store for his character, about good and evil being relative, etc. The film also has a solid supporting cast, including minor roles for Margo Harshman (Navy CIS) and Holt McCallany (CSI: Miami), as well as character actors Allan Rich and Mako (in his final on-screen role). There are also very short appearances by Fran Kranz (Dollhouse; Cabin in the Woods) and Brian Hugh Warner (a. k. a. Marilyn Manson).
The “others” in this film are clearly intended to be vampires, as they return from the dead and have no reflection, but the word “vampire” is never mentioned in the film. They have no fangs, but slit their victims’ throats in order to drink their blood – this is a plot device used in vampire films on occassion (such as in Vampyrer, if my memory is correct).
Ironically, the little pendants the vampires use to slit throats have the shape of a cross…
I felt reasonably entertained by this film, and I did not experience it as slow or boring (which is something I have seen people complain about). Moreover, there is nothing in this film that is cringeworthy, which sets it apart from most B-movies. As I said: this feels like a formerly-medium-sized production that had its budget cut on short notice and then received a close-shave editing by the studio in order to bring it closer to 90 minutes.
So, with all the shortcomings listed above, it is mainly the cast, especially Liu and Chiklis, who lift this film from mediocre to just-above-average. I would rate Rise at 5.5 to 6.0 out of 10, and while I see no reason to recommend it, I can likewise see no reason why fans of vampire films should not watch this.