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Alone in the Dark

Lionsgate Home Entertainment // R // May 10, 2005
List Price: $27.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Scott Weinberg | posted July 1, 2005 | E-mail the Author
It's not at all surprising that Alone in the Dark is so breathtakingly awful. I've seen several of director Uwe Boll's earlier works, so I knew going in that "AitD" was going to be blissfully atrocious on just about every imaginable level. This is a filmmaker so inept that he's been called "this generation's Ed Wood" more often than I've been called "this generation's nobody important." The only thing surprising about this train-wreck of a film ... is that it somehow got picked up for distribution by Lions Gate!

It would take about 50 Alone in the Darks before I could learn to say anything nasty about Lions Gate Films and its devotion to high-quality horror cinema. This is a company that introduced me to my beloved May and my good pal Cabin Fever. Through LG I was able to see the brilliant American Psycho, the underrated Dagon, the fantastic Brit import Deathwatch, the clever indie Dead End, the drop-dead amazing Frailty, the Canadian classic Ginger Snaps, the slick & sleazy Saw, the underwater gloom of Open Water and the blisteringly brazen nastiness of High Tension.

I strive to be an objective movie analyst, but I really do dig Lions Gate. I think they've more than earned my patronage.

So what I'm wondering is this: how did the (clearly very intelligent) horror hounds at Lions Gate get wrapped up with the latest Uwe Boll movie? Did they NOT SEE Boll's House of the Dead?

Astonishingly, Lions Gate pressed more than 2,100 prints of this movie and sent them into movie theaters all over the country. As if House of the Dead had never existed, and thereby allowing Uwe Boll to convince people that he could direct a movie. And by "movie" I mean something with characters and a plot and a solid narrative thru-line of something even remotely decipherable.

To say that Alone in the Dark will go down as one of this year's (nay, decade's) worst movies would be a stunning display of understatement. This, indeed, could be one of the worst movies ever made. Since the Earth's sun was born.

The movie opens with a "text crawl" that runs about nine paragraphs. Yeah, nine. Plus there's a grim-sounding fellow who recites the whole thing while you read. And after all this ... you're still completely lost. Apparently the movie contains about six or seven different plotlines smooshed together, none of which would make any sense on their own. Combined, it's like the world's biggest bowl of Nonsense Stew. Bring a large spoon.

All you need to know is that Christian Slater is the hero guy. We know this because Chris, who is maybe 5 foot 6 and 170 pounds soaking wet, opens the movie by laying the super-dude smackdown on a hulking undead brute. Then we cut to a museum in which Tara Reid (yes, the Tara Reid who is famous for dancing at night-clubs and baring her knockers for the paparazzi) is the resident science expert / museum curator. Keep in mind that Tara Reid looks, maybe, 18 years old. And also that she's as believable as a museum curator as Fred Rogers would be as a member of the Black Panthers. The third name plastered on the Alone in the Dark poster is Stephen Dorff, and he gets to be the tough-talking commando guy. Of the three leads, only Mr. Slater escapes with some self-respect intact, although I might just be saying that because, despite my better judgment, I've always dug Slater's work.

This triumvurate of amazingly insipid cardboard characters proceed to spend the next 50-some minutes wandering "In the Dark" while a few nameless characters get killed by unseen creatures. And once you do get to see the astoundingly inept CG work that brings said beasties to life, you'll be fully convinced that said creations were scarier "unseen."

Some time after you fall asleep (but well before you wake up wanting to smash your own skull with a ceramic toilet lid), the movie ends. And you're then cast adrift, back into normal life, only now you're packing a frontal lobe well aware that a movie as awful as Alone in the Dark really does exist. This is a movie that has the long opening text, huge, heaping helpings of voice-over narration, and a trio of characters who do nothing aside from spit plot exposition at each other -- and still none of it makes a lick of sense. It's like a bad comedian who insists on telling a long, rambling joke -- and he stops every five minutes just to explain why the joke's so hilarious.

Aspiring filmmakers must look at Alone in the Dark like aspiring musicians look at Milli Vanilli. It's a face-slapping affront that something this dreadfully inept can be produced and released -- while so many other movie-makers never even get their first shot.

The film looks as if it were shot with umbrellas instead of cameras.

The acting ranges from "wholly humiliated" to "outright abysmal" to "WTF? Bwahahaaaa!"

The action sequences look like they were filmed in a giant shoe box, only someone forgot to drill a few holes in the sides.

To say the flick was edited in "random order" would be way too kind an assessment. Randomly placing things in blind order could lead to an offbeat rhythm or bizarre cadence. No, this movie looks like it was edited by a BizarroAvid, which is a machine that puts your movie together in the most psychologically upsetting order possible. There's just no other explanation. Imagine if your neighbor's kid made backyard versions of his favorite scenes from Alien, The Relic, and Resident Evil -- and then forced you, at gunpoint, to watch his footage.

The sets, the costumes, the makeup, the FX work, the music, the lighting (or noted lack thereof), the sound work ... There really is nothing here that one could point to as a "saving grace." Alone in the Dark is precisely what people mean when they say "That's the worst movie I've ever seen!" -- even if they've never even seen it. Unfair? Perhaps. But I say it's unfair for a filmmaker to make a living by making movies that are so bad that he (and his investors) will earn more money via write-offs and tax shelter loopholes than he ever could in box office receipts and DVD sales. (Truth.)

And all this rambling venom is coming from a guy who LIKES bad movies. But there's nothing "fun-bad" about the sheer and desperate ineptitude on display here. (OK, Tara Reid's performance falls entirely into the "fun-bad" category.) I'm fully convinced that Uwe Boll could not direct shit to stink if he had an unlimited budget and final cut. Or perhaps I'm just laying it on a bit thick in the direction of a filmmaker who's obviously an easy target. Tell you what: you go watch Heart of America, House of the Dead, and Alone in the Dark in one sitting.

If your fingers still work after that marathon of torture has concluded, feel free to drop me an email and tell me how unfair I'm being.


Video: Widescreen Anamorphic transfer, which almost manages to make Alone in the Dark look like a professionally made motion picture.

Audio: You choice of Dolby Digital 5.1-EX or 5.1 DTS. The only time you'll notice much difference is during the third-act bullet-fests. And trust me: the less you can hear of the dialogue, the better off you'll be.

Extras: Somehow under the delusion that there are actual fans of this film, Lions Gate has opted to deliver a solid collection of supplemental material -- as if this movie's not some sort of huge, global laughing-stock already.

There's a trivia track that you can watch along with the film, but it's mainly full of Christian Slater trivia, notes about how "monsters" are created using "CGI," and an oft-repeated explanation of what "wild goose chase" means. Weird. Oh, and apparently "Tara Reid is a devout Philadelphia Eagles fan." Not exactly sure what this tidbit has to do with a piss-poor horror movie, but as a lifelong Philadelphian, I'd like to thank the text commentary authors for ruining next football season.

Into the Dark: Behind the Scenes of Alone in the Dark begins on the appropriate foot -- by spelling director Uwe Boll's name incorrectly. From there it's a ceaseless deluge of self-delusion from Boll, screenwriter Elan Mastai, and producer Shawn Williamson. Christian Slater goes the diplomatic route by keeping his comments kind, but not overtly specific. Tara Reid pops in and lets us know that shooting guns is "fun!" Including clips from Alone in the Dark and House of the Dead, this featurette runs about 7.5 unintentionally amusing minutes.

Shedding a Light: The Visual Effects of Alone in the Dark feels a whole lot like an entire cooking show devoted to peanut butter & jelly sandwiches. FX supervisor Doug Oddy, FX artist Ted Gervan, 3-D artist Ben Wylie, and FX compositors Joel Tong & John Fukushima explain how much time and effort went into the few flashy bells & whistles that you'll find wedged into this awful, awful movie. (To be completely fair, the "Toybox" crew did precisely what was requested, and they did so on an exceedingly skimpy budget -- so to knock these guys for the biblical ineptitude of Alone in the Dark is like insulting the Titanic's head chef for not avoiding the iceberg.) This featurette runs approximately 9.5 minutes.

You'll also find six (!) music videos:

Dimmu Borgir's "Vredesbyrd"
Hypocrisy's "Eraser"
In Flames' "The Quiet Place"
Kataklysm's "As I Slither"
Mnemic's "Deathbox"
Nightwish's "Wish I Had An Angel"

And I'm taking votes on which song is the absolute worst. If you can somehow sit through all six, cast your ballot by dropping me an email with the subject line "Scott, help me. My ears won't stop bleeding."

Storyboard to Screen contains two sections: Pinkerton Chase and Sandworms. Moving on.

Bullet Time Animatic is an animated version of the film's opening fight scene, which means it looks like a video game as designed by a 7-year-old. Still, it's more entertaining than the filmed version.

There's also a collection of trailers for Alone in the Dark, House of the Dead, Riding the Bullet, and The Final Cut.

Last but certainly not least is an audio commentary by writer/director/producer Uwe Boll. (The commentary is not listed among the special features, but tucked away in the "set up" menu.) The auteur opens with "Here is the director's commentary. Welcome to it." -- which is a clear indication that Mr. Boll knows how few people would dare to listen in. The guy mentions the following movies in less than eight minutes: Catwoman, Tomb Raider, Resident Evil, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Aliens, The Relic, Blade, Elektra and (somehow) Year of the Dragon (?) -- and the implication seems to be that Boll's films are better because he has less money to work with. Hilarious. He somehow manages to refer to the FX work in Alone in the Dark as "state of the art." This coming from a filmmaker who describes one of his sequences as "bullet time."

Reading between the lines is a must with this track. Boll explains that he didn't use the game designers' screenplay so he could pick between the "15 or 20" other drafts, and also that the production company "acquired" the rights after the screenplay was locked -- what he's really saying is "Atari knew how amazingly bad this movie was going to be, so they washed their hands of the whole project." The director even goes on to explain that the planned "Alone in the Dark 5" video game was completely scrapped once Alone in the Dark hit North American theaters.

Again, this is all in just the first ten minutes. Want some random bits of Boll blatherings? Try these on for size:

"Tara Reid looks really intelligent with the eyeglasses ... I hope."

"This is Stanley Park in Vancouver ... and our VW product placement."

"To be honest about the Alone in the Dark theatrical release results, I'm very, very disappointed. Especially because the audience saw Darkness, then White Noise, then Hide and Seek, then Boogeyman. These are all not really great movies, but all these movies made money, and all these movies are basically the same."

Basically the guy's willing to make any excuse in the book as to why everyone hates Alone in the Dark -- while forever neglecting to acknowledge that, hey, maybe this movie is so astronomically terrible that it makes Boogeyman look like The Shining.

I also love how Boll refers to negative reviews as "trash." I feel like I just wandered into an intervention for a crackhead who's intent on blaming everyone else for his drug addiction.

Final Thoughts

Somewhere in the netherworld, Ed Wood is resting pretty comfortably right now.

My most honest advice would be to skip this movie entirely, and by entirely I mean "...even if you live to be 139 years old." But if you're a hardcore fan of the bottom of the barrel cinema and you love nothing more than enjoying a movie that coasts by on a majestic wave on monumental ineptitude, then be sure to add Alone in the Dark to your Netflix queue.

Hell, just the petulant hubris found throughout the director's commentary is worthy of a stoned or drunken visit.

(Portions reprinted from my original (theatrical) review of the film.)
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