Against the Dark (2009)
“He lives by the sword. They will die by it.”
Director: Richard Crudo
Cast: Steven Seagal, Tanoai Reed, Jenna Harrison
Synopsis: When most of the population of Earth is infected with a virus and transformed into flesh eaters and blood drinking creatures, a group of hunters led by Tao chases the vampire zombies to eliminate them.
As the horror genre becomes flooded with cheap DTV efforts it seems to be growing confused about the species of its boogeymen. Against the Dark’s promo literature describes a post-apocalyptic world in which a dwindling number of humans are the prey of the victims of a virus which has turned them into vampires. But, even though they drink blood, these predators possess the table manners of zombies, tearing and gorging upon the flesh of their victims rather than sucking the life essence from them. They even have the generally accepted look of a zombie — grey skin, mostly, given the obvious limitations of the budget — and have no fangs although, in one of the movie’s few effective moments, we see one female zombie who has taken to hanging her victims by their ankles so that she has blood on tap, busily filing her teeth to razor sharp points, presumably to make it easier for her to rip apart her victim’s flesh. However, these ‘vampires’ are apparently unable to handle daylight. It’s all a bit confusing, and you kind of get the impression that even writer Mathew Kilckstein wasn’t quite sure what they were supposed to be.
Almost the entire movie takes place in or around an abandoned hospital to which four survivors of the virus, Dylan (Daniel Percival), Ricky (Stephen Hagan), Amelia (Emma Catherwood) and Charlotte (Skye Bennett) have ventured in search of penicillin. On their search they come across Morgan (Danny Midwinter) and Dorothy (Jenna Harrison), a couple who have been hiding out in the hospital for the past three weeks, and who inform them that the hospital’s generator is on its last legs so, as the hospital’s only accessible exit is via a motorised roller door, they have to make their way to the hospital’s ground floor post-haste. Apparently most of the stairwells have been blocked off with piles of furniture, there are presumably no windows through which they can escape, and the hospital is littered with mutant-vampire-zombies roaming aimlessly around with a major case of the munchies.
Our band of survivors has one thing going for them, however. Also roaming the hospital corridors are an elite unit of vampire hunters sweeping the area for human survivors. These highly-skilled fighters are led by the enigmatic Tao (Steven Seagal) and are easily recognisable by their uniform of black leather which is very cool, but not exactly practical. What’s not so great is the fact that, unknown to everyone within the hospital, the military are planning to bomb the hospital at daybreak in order to ‘sterilise’ the area, so they only have four hours to make it to that exit.
It seems that Steven Seagal is hardly bothering to appear in the movies in which he now stars, if you know what I mean. His contribution to the movie’s first half consists mostly of him and his leather-clad buddies walking purposefully around the hospital’s deserted corridors looking for some action. Many of these shots are from the waist down, which means you can bet your life those aren’t Mr. Seagal’s feet you’re watching. Likewise, you can be pretty sure that, if Seagal isn’t in the same shot as those with whom he’s communicating, then he wasn’t anywhere near them when he spoke his lines, even if the glaring differences in lighting didn’t give the game away. I once wrote about how you could chart the age of Seagal’s movies by the size of his waistline, and Against the Dark does nothing to disprove this theory. When not shooting him from the shoulders up, novice director Richard Crudo calls upon his experience as a cinematographer to devise shots strategically designed to place something between us and our leading man in order to disguise the size of Seagal’s girth. Not that we really see much of Seagal in terms of screen time, and The Rock’s stunt double Tanoai Reed essentially serves as Seagal’s surrogate, performing all the fight scenes Seagal would have executed if he weren’t the wrong side of 55 and 16 stone.
Compared to other DTV action-horror movies, Against the Dark more or less holds its own — although that isn’t much of a recommendation when you think about it. The most annoying thing about it is the complete stupidity of most of the characters, who repeatedly run off in opposite directions when faced with danger. In the end, as one character assures her companions that there’s nothing to worry about as she approaches a crying child, any residual sympathy for their predicament finally dissolves and we end up reflecting with something approaching relish on how much she deserves the fate that surely awaits her. A movie that loses its audience in this way — so that you actually start rooting for the mutant-vampire-zombies — doesn’t really deserve even 94 minutes of your time.