When I worked at Blockbuster video way, way back in 2005, I rented Alone in the Dark to see if all the anti-Uwe-Boll fuss was justified. For the uninitiated, the German-born Dr. Boll (believe it or not, the guy has a doctorate in literature) is the man behind several video game movies, including House of the Dead, BloodRayne, In the Name of the King, Postal and FarCry, all of which have the distinction of being almost unanimously mocked or loathed by both critics and video game fans. The man's fame only increased when he started to take public issue with the reception of his movies, trying to suggest that the audiences who didn't like them were watching them incorrectly, that his critics were "retards", and even boxing several journalists in an event that sponsor GoldenPalace.com dubbed "Raging Boll". Looking back on it now, I remember being surprised by both how technically competent but utterly inane the original was. I guess I foolishly expected this sequel to do marginally better than the good doctor (because it isn't hard), but Alone in the Dark II is actually far worse, gradually arriving at a previously undiscovered level of inanity that seriously boggles the mind.
The movie opens with a scene of four people in a bathroom, three of whom are unaware of the fourth person, Xavier (Zack Ward), who is hiding in one of the stalls. If I'm following correctly (which I might not be), the three gun-toting individuals have discovered an evil dagger of some sort, which causes anyone who touches it to have visions of the past, and eventually become possessed by an evil witch. For whatever reason, Xavier gives it to Edward Carnby (Rick Yune), the hero from the original Alone in the Dark, passing the curse onto him in the process. Shortly thereafter, Edward is kidnapped by a group of people looking to rid the world of the dagger and its evil. He is taken to their secluded home, where they attempt to use Edward's description of his visions to find a way to kill the witch.
Or something like that. I don't know. I can't remember the last time I watched a movie and had so little reaction to it that I couldn't even say I was bored with it, but within the first five minutes of Alone in the Dark II, my brain and attention span simply shut off, and that was it. Even as someone who loves to rubberneck at awful horror sequels, the events of Alone in the Dark II are so outside of anything that stirs a response in me that it's hard for me to believe my home theater system actually put out picture and sound while I was in front of it. It literally is as striking as watching paint dry, and we're talking white paint at that.
At first, I was concerned that my total inability to remember what transpired in the original Alone in the Dark was the problem, that familiarity with the first film was key to understanding the second. Years of direct-to-video sequels (and, well, sequels in general) inadvertently left me thinking Alone in the Dark II would probably pick up entirely new plot threads with entirely new characters, but either way, that'd be my fault, not the movies. It turns out I had nothing to worry about: within the first ten minutes of the audio commentary, the directors confirm that there are almost no connections to the original film. Hopefully, this paints a clear picture of how inane the film is, because I don't know how else to explain it.
Even with my almost non-existent memory of Boll's movie, I am able to recall that everyone's favorite Jack Nicholson sound-alike Christian Slater played the role of Edward Carnby the first time through, and I'm at a loss to explain why they replaced the actor with the Asian villain from The Fast and the Furious. Slater had the whole disheveled detective look down, a look that fit the character he's meant to be playing from the video game. Yune, on the other hand, doesn't look like he even bothered to put on a costume (maybe the filmmakers couldn't afford one). In the prologue I mentioned, there's even a gunfighter that looks a lot like Slater; I thought that was meant to be his character until Yune showed up It's all extra-confusing, because there I didn't see any reason to bring Carnby back at all other than maintaining a connection to the game -- a game that Boll apparently already disregarded -- in a movie that the filmmakers claim isn't really a sequel to its predecessor.
Like most DTV efforts, the cast is also peppered with genre vets, but I'm guessing favors were called in to coerce Bill Moseley, Michael Paré, P.J. Soles, Danny Trejo and Lance Henriksen into appearing in this junk. Some of them barely warrant any screen time (particularly Trejo, who only has one brief expository line -- "Here she comes!" or something to that effect -- and only appears in a ten minute stretch of the movie), and none of them exert more than the bare minimum of effort. Co-directors Peter Scheerer and Michael Roesch are quick to match the actors' enthusiasm. You'd think at least one of them would have even the most basic visual ideas for the film, but the direction never rises above the level of point-and-shoot, as if every shot is essentially exposition. The closest the film ever comes to style is a handful quick-cut sequences that feel like a cut-rate Saw knock-off, a comparison I'm sure will enthrall any viewer.
But, what to say about the film as a whole? I am confounded. It's technically competent, and it wasn't a painful slog to watch it (like some of the dreck I've seen), but when it comes to the plot, it's like I'm charged with reviewing a film I watched through a soundproof window. I promise you, dear reader, that I dutifully shoved the disc into the player and paid attention to what was on screen from beginning to end, and yet, I just don't know what the movie was about. Is that possible? Am I losing my mind? My sanity is debatable, but in the meantime I can reassure myself: I may not be able to name a supporting character from this film to save my life, but I'm sure nothing wedged in between the awful dialogue, unoriginal ideas and lazy acting could have convinced me to care.
The Unrated Version
Looking online, I have noticed that an Unrated version of Alone in the Dark II is available, but it's not the one I was sent to review. The cut of the flick I watched was 91 minutes long (with, I might add, one of the slowest credit crawls I've ever seen -- the film is over at the 83-minute mark!) and rated PG-13 for violence, disturbing images and brief drug content. I'm actually a little surprised: there's several semi-gruesome wounds I might not have expected to fly in a PG-13.
I guess the cover for Alone in the Dark II resembles the cover of the original Alone in the Dark, and when you actually look at it for a second, you can see what it's meant to be illustrating (a cocoon on the inside of some poor soul's ribcage), but the overall design is still quite bland, and anyone glancing at it isn't going to "get" it fast enough to catch their attention. The back cover is equally vague, with a cloaked figure (conclusively identifiable as a human being only by the presence of a hand someone Photoshopped into the image) partially disintegrating into bats? Or something? I dunno. The same art is on the slipcover and the actual cover, and no insert is included inside the ECO-BOX case.
The Video and Audio
A serious chunk of Alone in the Dark II, not surprisingly, takes place in the dark, and the 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer isn't very good at juggling the low-light photography and green-blue shadows Scheerer, Roesch, and cinematographer Zoran Popovic have cooked up, which appear smeary and peppered with artifacts. The film also looks a bit soft, probably because it was shot on the cheap, although the credits have the opposite problem, exhibiting more than a handful of jagged edges, and the daytime scenes handle the detail a bit better. It's not a travesty, but it's far from great.
A Dolby Digital 5.1 mix is nothing to write home about. It sounded a little dulled or muffled to my ears, and the mix isn't very dynamic, rarely utilizing the back speakers. If they'd have gone with 2.0 instead, I don't think I'd have noticed the difference. To add insult to injury, no subtitles are included, which is a problem: many of the mumbly bits in this already confusing movie will forever remain a mystery.
Alone in the Dark II comes with a feature-length audio commentary with directors Scheerer, Roesch, and star Bill Moseley. It's one of those totally genial commentaries where a set of professional friends just sit there and chuckle at the movie they've made, expounding more trivia than actual information. It doesn't sound like Moseley has seen the movie before, so he frequently asks questions of the directors (prompting them to explain what's happening on screen!) and reacts to the film. There are also several gaps of awkward silence where nobody seems to know what to say.
Two featurettes are also included, both being pretty self-explanatory: Behind-the-Scenes (14:22) is a general look at the film's production, while Cast Interviews (24:10) is a ridiculous surplus of dry on-set chats with the cast. Neither are revolutionary, filled with the basic platitudes and praise that can be seen in any generic DVD features. It's just kind of astonishing to hear such praise in reference to Alone in the Dark II.
I'm not even sure what else to say. Skip it, lest you too feel like you're losing your mind.
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