EA's survival horror
Dead Space: Downfall opens with the discovery of some sort of religious relic on the otherwise barren world of Aegis-7. The USG Ishimura -- a colossal mining ship that splits entire planets down the middle to extract the minerals and rare ores housed inside -- takes this enormous artifact onboard for further study by church scholars on Earth, further dividing the different religious factions on the ship. Shortly after this relic is removed, an unusual spike in violence and suicides ravages the colony and soon spreads to the Ishimura. Technicians once cold and detached start slaughtering one other, and muttering something about how "they" want warm bodies to house them, crewmen mutilate themselves.
This is just the first stage of the outbreak, though; the bodies of the dead are soon consumed...mutated into necromorphs with dozens of razor-sharp fangs, two-foot-long bony spikes jutting out of their palms, and spade claws bursting out of their abdomens. With the Ishimura stranded in a remote stretch of space and its dozens of emergency craft jettisoned, the few surviving crew members are trapped with hundreds -- maybe thousands -- of the ravenous, unrelenting undead. There is no escape. There is no hope of salvation. A small group of security officers would just rather die fighting than succumb to this virulent alien attack, and they're hellbent on keeping the few scattered survivors on the crew alive as long as they can.
Dead Space: Downfall is unflinchingly graphic and violent. Zombies
As a lifelong gorehound, I appreciate that Downfall isn't watered down to pander to the E-for-everyone crowd, although even with all of that gruesome imagery, it does feel more like a video game than a brutal horror movie. The crew members have fluorescent blue 'life meters' on their backs, and the attacks by swarms of these mangled creatures seem to be nicked from Halo or something skewing more towards guns-blazing action than a claustrophobic, unnerving horror movie. Once the infection spreads to the ship, Downfall refuses to let up, but I can't help but think something more suspenseful -- even something as simple as a stray member of the security team being slowly, quietly stalked by one of the creatures, for instance -- might've made a bigger impact. It seems like Downfall wants to be so enormous in scope and scream along with action on an epic scale that it steps over a more intense, suspenseful horror movie in the process. It's actually more tense and disturbing in the early stretches of the virulence when the colonists are still recognizably human and butchering themselves and each other in paranoid, rambling fits. The story and its characters don't have the same hook as, say, the crew of Nostromo in Alien, so all Downfall really has to lean on is its action, and I'm not sure that's enough.
Dead Space: Downfall captures the unflinchingly graphic violence of EA's survival horror video game, but it misses out on the suspense and intensity that leave it standing out as one of the year's best. Downfall is good enough, but this animated prequel is kind of a hard sell to anyone who's not already a die-hard fan of Dead Space, and unlike the EA game, I'm skeptical it'd hold up all that well the second time through. Rent It.
Video: The crisp, clean linework throughout Dead Space: Downfall looks pretty much perfect on Blu-ray. There's a much stronger sense of clarity over a traditional DVD, and the texture work in the CG graphics scattered throughout is impressively detailed. Colors are deliberately subdued -- reflecting the dark, unrelentingly bleak tone of the movie -- and the image is bolstered by deep, robust black levels. Since this is a direct digital transfer, no wear or speckling ever creep in. I spotted some light banding a couple of times -- once in a murky gray sky and again as a group of security officers darted across a floor -- but it's nothing all that distracting. Dead Space: Downfall has kind of a low-key visual style, and this isn't the sort of Blu-ray disc that's going to leave any jaws scraping against the floor, but it looks to be a near-flawless representation of the original material.
Audio: Dead Space:
Bass response is kind of limited. Some effects pack a wallop -- the colossal Ishimura rattling when the first signs of catastrophe rear its bloodied, dismembered head, for instance -- but using tractor beams to rip what amounts to a small mountain out of the ground and the relentless streams of gunfire sound fairly thin. Oddly, slamming doors seem to pack more bass than pretty much anything else in the movie. Still, the effects and dialogue are rendered cleanly and clearly, and all of the elements seem to be balanced effectively in the mix.
There are no alternate soundtracks, although subtitles have been provided in English (SDH) and Spanish.
Extras: Not much. The climax
Dead Space: Downfall also includes a portable copy of the movie on a second disc. The set comes packaged in a traditional Blu-ray case with a glossy, embossed cardboard sleeve. The flipside of the case lists "cheat codes" as an extra, but I didn't stumble across anything like that.
Conclusion: Dead Space: Downfall is a lean, vicious, and blood-spattered animated prequel to the EA survival horror game. As violent and cacklingly gory as it is, I think it might've been more effective if it were more intensely focused on horror and suspense -- the religious and ecological bent is kind of a distraction, and the characters and overall story aren't especially compelling on their own. Downfall is worth seeking out for gamers who've torn through Dead Space and want to see more of its dark, bloodied backstory, but I don't think this Blu-ray disc is something I'm going to wind up watching more than once. Rent It.