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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Dark Rising
Dark Rising
Entertainment One // Unrated // August 11, 2009
List Price: $19.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Adam Tyner | posted August 15, 2009 | E-mail the Author
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Grab Army of Darkness off
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the shelf, toss in two scoops of Xena, stir vigorously, dump what's left in a colander to drain away anything that might cost more than forty bucks Canadian, and...ta-da! Dark Rising Under Glass. That's the idea, at least. This microbudget action/comedy hybrid from the Great White North nails the campiness but not the...um, comedy...or the action. There's a low-budget charm and wide-eyed earnestness to the whole thing that's really endearing -- that makes me wish I dug Dark Rising a lot more than I actually do -- but I can't really recommend shelling out fifteen or twenty bucks to buy a movie that I almost like.

::sniffles!:: Jason (Landy Cannon) is still mopey after his kinda-sorta-fiancee Jasmine (Vanessa James) dumped her engagement ring off to him in the mail and called the whole thing off. Even palling around with his buddy Ricky (Jason Reso) on the set of a 1-900 phone sex commercial shoot isn't enough to turn that frown upside-down. Oh, but wait...! Maybe he'll have a chance to rekindle that flame on a camping trip with Jaz, her Jason-doesn't-know-she's-her-wiccan-lesbian-fling Marlene (Haley Shannon), and the too-cute-for-words Renee (Julia Schneider). See, Renee has been plagued by these oddball nightmares about a jiggling, half-naked woman carving apart a parade of nasty demons. I guess that's inspired her to seek out all sorts of Dark Magicks at the used bookstore down the road, and she's put together this whole trip to chat up the spirit of a young girl who mysteriously vanished twentysomething years ago. Her Kandarian is a little rusty, though, and Renee winds up opening a gateway to some darkly-nether-dimension and sucks in one of those evil beasties. Bad! ...but she also teleports over the juggy warrior princess from her dreams (Brigitte Kingsley), so it all kind of evens out in the end, right? Right?!?

Okay, Dark Rising
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isn't much for rich, textured storytelling. Borderline-none of the backstory's ever really touched on, a subplot with what look to be sinister government agents is maybe half-explained in the last eight seconds of the flick, but...whatever. It's kind of annoying that the movie teases at a lot of things and then hints in the cliffhanger that none of it will be revealed until the sequel rolls around, but what's left is coherent enough. Dark Rising doesn't get caught up in its own mythology: c'mon, it's supposed to be a campy comedy, after all. I say "s'posed to be" because for a comedy, it's really not funny at all. Some of the stabs at humor miss the mark so badly that I kind of just paused the movie and stared ahead blankly for a while. There's a bit with Jasmine having a fake orgasm after snidely poking fun at her ex. Not much of a setup, no punchline: just "oh...oh! Jason!", and that's supposed to score a laugh. There's another stretch where Jason's rambling on about melting a water bottle with his scorchingly hot pee or something that I guess is meant to get an uncomfortable laugh for being so off-the-wall, but...no. The first third plays a lot like one of those low-rent sex comedies on HBO from 1983, and those microwaved leftovers taste pretty bland and rubbery these days.

At least Dark Rising piles together a gaggle of cute Canadian girls, and if that's your thing, pretty much all of 'em either get topless or close enough to it. Nah, it's not Cinemax After Dark-grade, but what Dark Rising lacks in a budget, it tries to make up for with Mo Fuzz-style production value. It takes a while for the fantasy-slash-action to really kick in, but I've gotten parking tickets with a bigger price tag than its effects budget, there are only a couple of battles, and the fight choreography looks like it was hammered out five minutes before the camera rolled. Even the big, bad demon (a K'lirth D'nrak or something like that) looks like a cross between Evil Ash and the monster puppet from Rock 'n Roll Nightmare. I mean, if you have an action/comedy without much in the way of action or comedy, all you're left with is a slash, and who wants to watch that? It's just a drag because I really like the cast. Sure, some of the supporting bits are kind of stilted, and the main bunch overplay it, but that kinda works in a campy flick like this. They just seem like they're having a blast together, and that borderline-delirious sense of we-have-the-best-jobs-evar really bleeds through. With a different stack of names over the title, I kinda doubt Dark Rising would've worked at all. I just wish the movie was as much fun to watch as it clearly was to make. Rent It.

Oh, but if you pick up Dark Rising and do go nuts over it, writer/director Andrew Cymek's chatter in his Twitter feed makes it sound like that sequel ought to be rolling around pretty quickly...

Shot natively on some flavor of digital video, Dark Rising hacks its way onto DVD in kinda mediocre anamorphic widescreen. I dug the way some stretches look, especially the blown-out contrast and brilliant greens of the opening spat. A lot of the movie seems like it's mired in a kind of digital haze, though, and there's fairly nasty compression artifacting too. Its colors sometimes bleed a bit in the bright of day, and the photography can get really noisy at night which is...y'know, the backdrop for half the flick. Clarity...detail...all that's pretty lackluster too. I mean, this DVD is completely watchable, but if you're keen on your shiny five inch discs startling you, then keep your expectations kinda modest here.
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Dark Rising serves up a kinda routine Dolby Digital 5.1 track, belted out here with a bitrate of 448kbps. It's not a hypercaffeinated mix with a thunderous, foundation-rattling, internal-organ-liquefying low-end or anything, but for such a low-budget flick, it sounds okay. Dark Rising's dialogue comes through cleanly and clearly, natch. The surrounds slink to life during the action sequences -- clanking chains, sparking electrical whatchamadoozits, a snarling beastie, swiping blades -- but are otherwise pretty low-key. The directionality seems kind of off at some points, especially near the end where the Kilowog Dovebar or whatever it's called is in front of the camera but its growls are coming from behind. I wouldn't chalk myself up as all that much of a fan of the tinny, over-the-top, whimsy-exclamation-point score, but it's packing a great soundtrack, and those infectiously poppy songs are rendered pretty well too. Dark Rising's audio isn't some kind of technical marvel or anything, but...yeah, it's fine for what it is.

A straightahead stereo track has also been piled on, but there aren't any dubs or subtitles this time around.

  • Behind the Scenes (6 min.; lbx): Dark
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    's making-of featurette keeps it pretty chatty and casual: peeks at rehearsing in a bathroom, really quick conversations with the cast, a few behind the scenes shots...it's more about the personalities than searing insight or whatever. But...hey! That's why the next bulletpoint is for an...

  • Audio Commentary: Writer/director Andrew Cymek hops in front of the mic with three of his actors: Brigitte Kingsley, Jay Reso, and Landy Cannon. This is a ridiculously fun track, lobbing out a metric ton of stories about sidestepping a microscopic budget: fighting a tree instead of a knockdown, drag-out demon brawl, trying to hide that one battle was shot by a driveway, and the stuntguy playing a demon wearing leftover teeth from the Skinwalkers shoot. They'll veer off-topic and start snickering about stuff like catsitters too, and the way they work in geeky references like Illyria and Booster Gold make me want to add all of 'em to my Christmas card list. I don't actually have a Christmas card list, but I'll start one just for them. Oh, and Kingsley is more than just a pretty face. She took the reins as a producer too, and her knowledge of...well, pretty much everything about the shoot is encyclopedic. Some of the stats rattled off here are how many people auditioned for each part, casting the flick three days before cameras rolled, and hammering out principal photography in just 15 days. If you wind up grabbing a copy of Dark Rising, you really ought to give this commentary a whirl.

  • Deleted Scenes (7 min.; anam.): Dark Rising serves up five additional snippets, including an alternate opening, more with the masked Splinter Cell agent-types, and a whole backstory for the bookkeeper that was pretty much completely yanked out of the final flick. The best of 'em is Ricky explaining the motivation for a bikini-clad model to writhe around on a bed while shooting a phone sex TV spot. There's commentary for these scenes too -- sometimes it's optional, other times that's it -- with Andrew Cymek chatting about each of 'em and explaining why they got the axe.

  • Cage Match! (15 min.; 4x3): Jay Reso doesn't get to do all that much in the way of brawling in the flick, but if you want to see him all bloodied and bare-chested, this TNA cage match with him doing the whole Christian Cage thing against Rhino is packed on here too.

  • Slideshow (9 min.; 4x3): Last up is a hefty montage of production stills and behind-the-scenes shots.

The Final Word
A medieval arsenal! An ancient evil awakened by a dusty, I guess similarly ancient half-translated tome! A not-so-much-the-hero-type from the here-and-now who's stuck squaring off against that nasty little bugger with the horned helmet, jagged teeth, and tattered cape! A deliriously campy sense of humor! Romance...kind of! Yeah, Dark Rising is kind of swinging for the same fences as Army of Darkness only...y'know, not that well. I mean, I like the cast, and there's still something kind of infectious about the inhuman amount of fun all of 'em are clearly having, but a campy action/comedy that doesn't score all that many laughs and kind of shrugs off all the big battle sequences...? Rent It.

Why Not? A Couple More Screengrabs
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