Sure, it's a critical crutch and we online content generators can't help but rely on it from time to time, but in the case of The Dark Lurking, the "Cinematic Mixing Bowl" approach to a review is impossible to avoid. You know the drill: you take a series of recognizable movie references - in this case, past projects like Aliens, Alien3, Event Horizon, Pandorum, and almost any other evil in space genre effort - argue for how loyal the current filmmakers are toward said examples, and then state that the title in question is nothing more than a fanboy combination of same. Viola! The Cinematic Mixing Bowl metaphor. Again, The Dark Lurking definitely deserves this tag. If James Cameron, Paul W. S. Anderson, David Fincher, and Christian Alvart were of a mind, they could easily sue for plot/particulars plagiarism. While easy on the eyes and deafening to the ears, this straightforward sci-fi splatter fest owes way too much to established classics from the past. With its grunts in space set-up to the Satanic/supernatural angle, originality is not part of this Australian effort's designs. Instead, it hopes to rely on familiarity to get by...and for the most part, it almost does.
At a remote location deep underground, an outbreak of blood-thirsty mutants is destroying the population. Enter an intergalactic rescue squad made up of mercenaries. Their mission? Discover the cause and save any survivors. When they arrive, they soon realize they are vastly outnumbered. Even worse, their only means of support requires a mission back up to the surface to reestablish a com link - and something horrific walks the dark, rainy landscape. Eventually, the truth is revealed. Scientists in the facility are taking up the mantle of previous foolhardy researchers and are trying to clone the Antichrist - that's right, back during World War II, Hitler and his occult happy investigators uncovered the actual place where an angel fell to Earth. Indeed, they found Lucifer's landing spot after being cast out of Heaven, and for generations, governments and their goons have been trying to unleash its unholy power. Luckily, almost all have failed...until NOW!
Up front, it has to be said that The Dark Lurking looks very good indeed. Sure, the obvious plastic model nature of the rocket ships gives the space stuff a jokey, junk culture patina and writer/director Greg Connors never met a scene he couldn't get his cast to shoot their way out of, but for the most part, this low budget mimicry stands head and shoulders above 90% of the similarly styled genre attempts out there. Heck, in some ways, it's better than the above referenced Dennis Quaid space slasher from 2009. But don't get the wrong impression. The Dark Lurking is still a subpar effort overall, a film that's so incapable of thinking for itself that it has to borrow from betters in order to have a purpose. From the moment we see the military men warming up for their planetary assault, as we watch nameless characters die at the hands of bloody headed freaks, we immediately start quoting classics from the past. At any given moment, one expects a particularly nervous GI to shout, "Game over, man! Game over!" It doesn't help that the monsters look like rejects from H. R. Giger's original creature designs and that every situation is addressed via the end up a gun barrel. Indeed, if Connors had settled down for a moment and let his own imagination run wild, we might have something special.
Instead, the routine nature of The Dark Lurking's ideas undermine its possible effectiveness. Even when we discover the truth about what it going on (the weaponizing of evil - go figure), it's just not enough. We want something original, not another mixing of science and the supernatural. When Paul W. S. Anderson had his physics-warping spacecraft teleport itself into Hell, the notion seemed silly but still viable. Here, turning Lucifer remains into a lean, lanky killing machine (in the guise of a bland, boring actress) is just laughable. Besides, the "character" spends so much of the movie's 100 minute running time having shivering spasms that you just wish she'd transform and take out the rest of the cast ASAP. Connors clearly believes in a high body/bullet count. Over the course of an hour and forty minutes, we seem about a billion mutants destroyed and about a trillion rounds of ammo fired. The basic set-up for the story is this: characters complain about their fate; they hear a noise in the background; they start firing their guns with "who needs to reload" abandon - all the while screaming like Rambo at the carnage.
Perhaps the biggest sin committed by this otherwise defendable film is the lack of any real character connection. Everyone here is a jerk, from the muscles and mayhem minded soldiers to the survivors who range from incredibly whiny to "why don't they die?" One actress in particular is so awful, so clearly disconnected from the concept of talent that when she gets an axe in the chest, it's like a last minute death row reprieve from the Governor. Since we don't care about a single person here, because we can't identify with their plight beyond what movie Connors is borrowing from next, The Dark Lurking becomes nothing more than an exercise in excess. There is lots of gore here, body parts and vivisected torsos taking the place of dramatic gravitas and, as stated before, the soundtrack is overloaded with automatic machine gun fire. In certain instances, film fans can handle the copycat. After all, slasher films and RomComs are all built from the same basic cinematic parts. But The Dark Lurking is not just paying homage to its obvious influences. Instead, this is nothing more than a series of greatest hits - SOMEONE ELSE'S greatest hits.
Hey - Cinema Epoch! What's up with this shoddy, problematic print. The 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen image actually looks like a YouTube video blown up to big screen proportions. There is so much rampant pixelation and image stutter that you wonder what kind of webcam lens was being used to capture the action. Granted, there are a few moments where the video defects disappear, but they are few and far between. Overall, this is a pretty crappy transfer.
Hello bombast my old friend, you've come to destroy my home video system speakers again. WOW - is The Dark Lurking ever loud and obnoxious. Between the bullet blasts, the human agonizing, and the monster grunts and groans, this friggin' film never shuts up - and then, when the characters speak a few lines of dialogue, we long for silence even more. The Dolby Digital Stereo mix delivers everything in ear piercing pronouncements, forgetting such crucial cinematic elements as subtlety and nuance. The aural situation here is not powerful, but nerve shattering - and not in a good way.
Want proof that Connors can create his own semi-original fare? Check out his underworld comic short Netherworld as part of this DVD's bonus features. It's a fun, fresh look at some hoary old Hell/demonic material. Elsewhere, we get a decent behind the scenes and an average still gallery. Cinema Epoch also unleashes a trailer, as well as a collection of same for other titles in its catalog. Overall, the added content here is eye-opening, especially in how it paints Connors and his untapped abilities.
If you can divorce yourself from the obvious (and much better sources), if you can put your brainpan on creative cruise control and simply absorb what The Dark Lurking has to offer, you might just find yourself enjoying the otherwise redundant experience. This is not a badly made or manufactured film, just one we've been seeing since It: The Terror from Beyond Space first argued for intergalactic monster mayhem. Earning a reluctant Recommended rating, this unbridled mess does suggest Greg Connors potential as an epic action moviemaker. Right now, he may not have his own ideas, but a little borrowing to make one's names is more or less excusable. Unfortunately, imitation is all The Dark Lurking has going for it.