"KEEP BUSTIN'."

Vern Vs. Seagal Vs. Vampires In AGAINST THE DARK!!

Over my several years as a rising Seagalogist I have been asked many times who would win in a fight between Seagal and Van Damme. I have also been asked who would win between Seagal and Bruce Lee. I have never been asked who would win between Seagal and vampires, but I know now that the answer is Sea(SPOILER)gal. But this is also one of those whoever-wins-we-lose type scenarios because, I’m sorry to report, AGAINST THE DARK may be the least interesting movie Seagal has ever made.

Some might disagree. Many who don’t like Seagal’s movies criticize him for the exact reason why I think he’s interesting: he keeps making the same type of movie over and over again. To me it’s the perfecting, tinkering, and slow evolution of that formula that makes the movies cool. You don’t listen to blues to hear brand new riffs. Still, it SEEMS like it would be interesting to see his first attempt at a horror movie. But let’s be honest, nobody’s expecting it to work as a horror movie, and it doesn’t. So it should be a real Seagal movie, but it isn’t. It’s a shitty Sci-Fi-Channel-worthy vampire siege movie where one of the characters happens to be played by Seagal. And not even the main character.

Against the DarkFor better or worse it is a landmark in Seagalogy. As my fellow scholars know, Seagal has tried at least twice to dip his toes into genre movies. SUBMERGED was filmed as a movie about mutants on a sub, ended up being about mind control. ATTACK FORCE was supposed to be about an alien invasion but was released as a story about stylish European gangsters on performance enhancing drugs. Producers resisted and made them science-fictionless in postproduction. Now Seagal has succeeded, he has faced (sort of) vampires.

When I saw the bloodsuckers on the cover for the screener I still wasn’t holding my breath. They could’ve re-dubbed it by the time the disc got in my player and it would just be about Russian mafia with bloody lips. But sure enough there is Steven Seagal as swordmaster Tao leading a team of leather-jacketed hunters in a post-apocalyptic world overrun by vampires. Unfortunately though they’re not the cross-fearing, bat-turning type of vampires, it’s more a 28 DAYS LATER deal where they say it’s a virus. They’re not undead I guess, they just enjoy blood. The opening narration says the survivors can move around during the day, but they never say or show what would happen to the vampires if they were in sunlight. For all we know it just gives them gas.

Seagal has done such a good job of sticking to one type of movie that suddenly showing him cutting up vampires with a sword is a real novelty. Here’s the catch: he’s not in the movie very much. Even when he is he’s not much of a character. Most of the movie is about a group of survivors walking around in a shadowy abandoned hospital. I already forget their names and if they had personalities or what they were trying to do. Eventually they run into the group of hunters led by Seagal and Tanoai Reed, who is The Rock’s stunt double and looks the part. (Hey, how about this guy in SCORPION KING 3?) He’s pretty cool looking but has even less of a character than Seagal.

There’s no background on Tao, no detail. All we know is what he says his name is and that he has a sword. In the first half of the movie he doesn’t get that much screen time and his only dialogue is generic commands like “Clear the area!” If it was a good movie and Seagal was only in a supporting role then it wouldn’t matter (see EXECUTIVE DECISION). But when it’s a generic, poorly made vampire movie Seagal is the ONLY thing going for it and they don’t keep him on screen enough to take advantage of the vampire/Seagal juxtaposition.

That’s kind of the evil nature of DTV though. “Ha ha ha, Kris Kristofferson and DMX together in LORDS OF THE STREET? Sign me the fuck up! How could that NOT be awesome?!” And then you watch it and you say, “Oh. That’s how.” Same thing here.

If you like gore there is some, including alot of intestine munching like in NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. In one of the very few effective moments an infected woman franticly files her own teeth into fangs, which is pretty disturbing. Seagal chickens out from being shown killing a little girl vampire (you just see a knife – not even his hand – raising and then it cuts to a different scene) but does allow a brief shot of him killing a little boy vampire. And the dude always looks cool with a sword so that’s a plus (too bad he just starts shooting them after a while.)

That reminds me, these vampires die the same way humans do. You just gotta shoot them or cut them. It’s not really clear why the non-hunters don’t arm themselves.

There are a couple enjoyable goofy moments. Seagal saves a little girl who says “Who are you?” He just says, “My name is Tao,” then dramatically turns around and leaves to the tune of rockin guitars. (okay, I guess you had to be there.) For me the biggest laugh is when he frees a guy who’s tied up, being tortured by a mad scientist. The guy says, “Thanks man,” and Seagal says, “Get out of here buddy.” It’s a little casual in my opinion. If I ever escape and/or rescue somebody from mad scientist torture I hope to say something more dramatic.

In a later scene the torture victim tries to explain to the others that “we’re the monsters now” because he was attacked by a guy who wasn’t a vampire, just crazy. Seagal says, “Man, I’ve seen that. People do what they have to do to survive.”

What? You seemed pretty high on vengeance a minute ago when you shot that guy! Now you act like you’re hearing about it for the first time and you sympathize with the dude. See, this movie would be better if it either a) was good or b) had more ridiculous crap like that. But this is about all you get.

The cast also includes Linden Ashby from MORTAL KOMBAT and the great Keith David. I knew David would have to be a small role but I was excited for his reunion with Seagal, since in MARKED FOR DEATH he was Seagal’s all-time best sidekick – in fact, more of an equal partner than a sidekick. So, of course, David plays a military commander ordering the hospital bombed (for some reason “there’s no time” – not really sure what they are trying to stop) and never has a scene with Seagal. Same goes for Ashby.

The main problem is that Seagal isn’t using his home field advantage. He’s going into a shitty vampire movie instead of bringing vampires to his own turf. It would be more fun if he was still an opinionated ex-CIA martial arts expert turned freelance intelligence operative and while he was in Japan as a youth he picked up the ancient secrets of vampire hunting and he discovers a nest of suckheads working with Yakuza or international arms smugglers or somebody. Or his brother is a vampire and he has to get revenge on the vampire slayer that staked him. I don’t know. I also think he should do a werewolf movie called HOWL FOR JUSTICE where he’s a cop framed by corrupt cops and he has to clear his name but also doesn’t want anybody to find out he’s the one eating everybody’s pets. And after that of course THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK OPS LAGOON.

I guess I published SEAGALOGY at just the right time. I was able to give it a happy ending because URBAN JUSTICE and PISTOL WHIPPED were sort of a return to form for the big guy. But KILL SWITCH and especially this one kind of undo that luster, he’s back to FLIGHT OF FURY levels here. I also got some thinking to do some day down the line if I update that book, because on a first viewing anyway this thing seems to challenge my theory that Seagal always puts his personal touch on every movie he’s in. You can definitely still say that with KILL SWITCH but this one it literally could’ve been anybody playing the character. Well, I guess if they had no arms it would be hard because they couldn’t hold the sword. Other than that anybody with a stunt double could play this character. In fact, any stunt double could play this character. It’s not Seagal-specific at all.

Sorry guys, don’t mean to piss on the parade, but this is not the hilarious movie everybody expects when they hear about it, or the actually good one a guy like me hopes for. Hopefully Seagal put more effort into one of the other two movies he has on the way, or the reality series, or something. I have my hopes pinned on this one:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xLTzcleUI3U

That trailer alone has a hell of alot more of interest than STEVEN SEAGAL AGAINST THE DARK. Sorry, but I’m gonna have to give this one to the dark.

thanks,

Vern

Originally posted at Ain’t-It-Cool-News: http://www.aintitcool.com/node/39496

View the archived Ain’t-It-Cool-News Talkback

This entry was posted on Sunday, December 21st, 2008 at 4:01 am and is filed under Action, AICN, Reviews, Seagal. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

9 Responses to “Vern Vs. Seagal Vs. Vampires In AGAINST THE DARK!!”

  1. Seagal must stop these crossoveracts. Attack Force was his scififilm = BOMB. Submerged got also some futuristic tone = BOMB. Against The Dark is his horrorfilm = BOMB.

  2. Wow, I gotta say you guys are harsh on this one. Yes, even you, Vern. (Betcha didn’t expect to hear me say that.)

    What didn’t work – a lot of the dialogue felt scripted. These characters don’t talk with urgency, they talk like they’re reading lines from a book, even when they’re fighting off vampires.

    Seagal himself is a fairly minor character, yet is introduced with rip-roaring musical cues every time he’s onscreen. (Remember what I said in another talkback about music making or breaking scenes in a film? Here the effect is that Seagal’s character is made to feel corny. It’s not his fault, it’s just that every time he appears, we get a crescendo of noble beats that don’t appear anywhere else in the film.)

    A deeper problem for me is that, as usual, everybody loves Seagal. This was a problem in “The Patriot” (not that that film didn’t have enough problems to deal with aside from that one) and it’s a problem here, because what it essentially means is that everybody unquestioningly obeys whatever Seagal says, and nobody wonders whether or not he might be wrong. Add that to the divine musical cues and lack of backstory, and Seagal’s character becomes a kind of divine figure, literally appearing out of the darkness to light his followers’ way. Trouble is, it also means that there is zero conflict between him and the people he’s leading. He really has no character, nor has he any meaningful interaction with any of the others.

    Oh, and talking of which, they have a great setup for a “fifth column”-type twist at the end, and I thought they were going to use it. Apparently they decided not to. I’m not sure if the film is better or worse for this. It’s probably good that they decided not to turn the film into a cut-rate version of “The Thing”, and there’s nothing more annoying than a group of protagonists who let petty stuff override their survival instincts time and time again. (As so often happens in low-budget horror.)

    So this lot… they get on well, when they’re together. And they have no problem fending for themselves when they’re not. I like that. One does wonder how three of them in particular survived as long as they did, and then it turns out that these three are the final survivors.

    And it has to be said, their vampire defence strategy sucks. I know the movie wouldn’t be any fun if the lead females were wearing full body armour instead of tight cleavage-displaying tops, but you’d think they’d at least have the sense to carry improvised weapons or something.

    Other bad points… while mercifully light on avid farts for the most part (“Submerged” had them coming out of its ass – and that mixed metaphor worked so much better than I’d thought), this movie does drop the ball in the action editing department. I also thought it was funny that they credited another guy as “voice of Tao”. What happens in the foreign dubbed versions?

    Good point now… there’s kind of an interesting theme throughout the film about the humans being the real monsters, “Omega Man”-style. I thought that worked better than it should have done, considering what it’s ripping off to do it. The actors manage to rise above the uncomfortable script, for the most part. Nobody does a really bad job, except on occasions the editors. There’s a little girl character that’s played well and manages not to be close to as irritating as she should have been, again considering what she’s ripping off here. (In a word: Newt.) It was fairly well paced, tense at points, and, some shaky editing aside, there was nothing too objectionable about it.

    So in summary – far better and more interesting than “Submerged”, in my opinion. Not close to “Marked for Death” or “Fire down below” or any of Seagal’s greats, but not as complete a disaster as it could have been either.

  3. So come on… which DVD should I watch next? Here’s what I haven’t seen yet: “Above the Law”, “Out for Justice”, “Ticker”, “Half past Dead”, “Belly of the beast”, “Out for a kill”, “The Foreigner”, “Clementine”, “Out of Reach”, “Into the Sun”, “Black Dawn”, “Shadow Man”, “Today you Die”, “Attack Force”, “Mercenary for Justice”, “Flight of Fury”, “Urban Justice”, “Kill Switch”, “Pistol Whipped”.

    So what’s next? Vern, hit me. I was going to see “Pistol Whipped” based on your review, but on the whole I think I could definitely go through this with a “start with the worst, end with the best”-type philosophy. And I find it hard to believe there are any on that list that are worse than “Submerged” (I might end up regretting saying that, but oh well.)

  4. Paul – You could do that, but thats like starting off hooker sex with her bitting your ass than fellatio and then intercourse. Its your right man, but…why?

    Of course if you ask me, the only three movies you mentioned I would consider recommend about be ABOVE THE LAW (very slick actioneer), OUT FOR JUSTICE (very trashy actioneer) and then after them, URBAN JUSTICE (slick trashy actioneer).

  5. Thanks RRA, I’ll leave those ones until last then. I think I’m going to go with what I’ve been doing so far, if only because I don’t want to be in the position where I’m thinking “Damn, I’ve watched all the good ones, now the rest will be a chore rather than a pleasure.”

  6. It’ll be a chore regardless of order, and what if after all that hours wasted you discover that maybe ABOVE THE LAW or OUT FOR JUSTICE weren’t worth it after all?

  7. Yeah, but RRA, somebody’s got to see them all. And you know, I’d rather savour the anticipation for the good’uns, even if they don’t finally live up to it. At the end of the day, Vern can’t be the world’s foremost Seagalololololologist forever. He needs somebody to pass the crown to. And that somebody should be a person with the enthusiasm, drive, and critical mind to take this thing forward. Who better than myself?

    You remember when Superman went into retirement, passing the burden of crime-fighting onto the son he’d had with Lois Lane? This is something very similar.

  8. Paul – Well kudos if you want to bear the cross, just don’t whine about getting nailed, ok? Rock on dude.

    As for Superman, if I know DC Comics writing of the last 20-25 years, Superman would eventually take the mantle back and that kid goes away to obscurity, later to be randomly killed in some overlong, silly epic storyline that won’t matter 6 months later.

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