Mania Grade: C+
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- DVD: Against the Dark
- Rating: R
- Starring: Steven Seagal, Jeff Chase, Skye Bennett, Jenna Harrison, Danny Midwinter, Emma Catherwood, Keith David, Linden Ashby
- Written By: Mathew Klickstein
- Directed By: Richard Crudo
- Distributor: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
- Original Year of Release: 2009
- Extras: Fighting the Shadows: Behind the Scenes of Against the Dark
Against the Dark
The Seagal Vampire Movie!
By Robert T. Trate
February 16, 2009
Steven Segal fights Vampires in Against the Dark (2009)
© Mania.com/Robert Trate
It would be easy to rip this movie apart. You probably already looked at the rating (C+) and either rolled your eyes in compliance or thought, could a Seagal movie get a higher rating? I believe two things about all movies. One, that no matter how bad a movie is someone, somewhere believes that that film is the best movie ever. For whatever the plot or setting it speaks to them. The other thing that I believe is that all films can teach us something. Whether that is to never give up or that life is beautiful there is a message in there. They can also teach young filmmakers how to make movies. Against the Dark is such a movie.
Here is the plot to Against the Dark. The world has been overrun by a plague. The infected go mad and crave human blood. Tao (Steven Seagal) is the leader of a pack of Hunters who walk the city streets looking for survivors. Tonight Tao and his band of assassins have to race against time to rescue six survivors in a hospital before the military sterilizes the entire area with a near nuclear explosion.
Okay, so the plot seems pretty straight forward. In actuality they are making the plot more about Steven Seagal’s character than what transpires in the film. This is for several reasons and probably how writer Mathew Klickstein and director Richard Crudo got there film off the ground. They need a star with a name people recognize. Sure Seagal isn’t a box office draw but you put him in a movie outside of his genre, i.e. a vampire movie, and people take notice (like curious film critics). Seagal also produced this film so he probably dropped some coin on the film or at least used his contacts to get a few other things like actors.
Seagal can’t carry a movie. Sorry Steven, but it’s true. You have one emotion and that is controlled, clean cut aggression. It works in this film and for the role, however you deliver a few lines outside of “get down” and you’ve lost us. Seagal is an action star not an actor. Against the Dark has a few actors bringing the scenes up a notch. Linden Ashby’s name might not jump off the page and outside of Days of Our Lives he is better known to genre fans as Johnny Cage from Mortal Kombat (1995). He is a hard working actor that has the chops to handle the genre and works quickly (budget management being a necessity for a film like this). As the only non military man trying to coordinate Tao with the survivors he brings a humanity and concern to film. This is a major plot point and emotion to get across. Without an actor of Ashby’s caliber all the impeding danger and humanity gets lost. You also need someone to act against Keith David, one of the hardest and best actors in Hollywood and star of Platoon, Requiem for a Dream and They Live. David plays the Lieutenant in charge of sterilizing the plague and his quick solutions and just following orders attitude brings a sense of realism to this vampire flick. It makes you wonder how much he was paid for the film. Did he owe someone a favor or does he just love to act? Without a doubt you need to make the most of what is on the written page and David and Ashby accomplish that. They may not be household names but you still need people who make you believe that this is real.
As I mentioned before budgeting is important. For a film like Against the Dark there are several great managements of time. The entire story takes place in one night. No costume changes. Not only does this save money but continuity as well. Perfect continuity means little or no re-shoots. Next, work your location to death. The entire film takes place in a burned out hospital. It looks as if the set from TV’s Scrubs was run through the SAW movie meat grinder. Perfect for the numerous running and fight sequences that take place in the same colored hallways and hospital rooms. Take full advantage of shadows and clever cuts to keep your star in the film but not on set. Throughout the film Tao and his assassins split up and prowl through dark alleyways. Most of the action is quick cuts and slow motion pans of Seagal’s face after the kill. Was that really him doing the killings? At times it is hard to tell. Numerous shots of the assassins running away from the camera with blades glistening at their feet set a mood and style but in actuality move Seagal from scene to scene with out really moving Seagal. Use stand-ins, they are cheaper. Why do all this? So that you can keep your money for what it is needed for, special effects.
This is a Vampire movie and you need every cent that isn’t paying actors or the crew to go into blood, gore, fangs and severed limbs. Against the Dark has incredible makeup effects by the special effects team of Lucian Iordache, Ciurlin Melania and Ionel Popa. Makeup effects can make or break your film. A vampire film in particular needs effects that will both terrify and thrill the audience. If it looks like red paint it probably is and people want more than that. Films like Hostel and SAW have set a very high benchmark and Against the Dark delivers the gore. You have to give the fans what they want and cheapening out on this will guarantee no one will watch your film ever again.
The no-brainier and simplest thing for a film in this genre and with this budget is that you need a pretty face. Jenna Harrison and Emma Catherwood fortunately can act but it is nice to see someone worth saving on screen. Harrison also brings a little more T and A than Catherwood but you have to wonder why she is wearing the outfit that she is if this is the end of the world. Her husband should keep those things better protected. Your audience is going to be mainly guys. Eye candy keeps them interested.
The plot for Against the Dark is more or less a side story to Richard Matheson’s “I am Legend”. The world has been plagued by a blood disease that evokes the notion that the infected act like vampires. Survivors band together and try to survive and yes, Seagal’s Tao does help those in need. The majority of this plot deals with the human condition and how two different groups of survivors try and work together to survive. Their small problem, to get out of the hospital before the power shuts down, is simple and later gives way to learning that the whole area is about to be nuked. Seagal is not nearly on screen as much as these survivors and their plight and flight tell an interesting if not fun story. The film falters on cliché’s and Seagal’s acting. The premise, though done before, is great ride and a movie survivalist’s dream. There are a great many things to learn from watching Against the Dark; never give up, fight to the bitter end and that you too can make a movie. Hopefully a better one.