Several questions raced through my mind while watching Steven Seagal’s newest direct-to-DVD film, Against the Dark. The most common one was, “Don’t I have anything better to do?” A close second was, “Seriously, what the hell am I doing here?” But right behind that one was, “What the hell is wrong with Seagal’s voice?” The answers to the first and second were an easy (and unfortunate) “No,” but I had to wait eighty-nine brutal minutes before I got the unexpected answer to the third.
Against the Dark opens with narration describing a viral infection that has swept across the globe. The virus is called Boyleromeroitus, or at least it should be as the affected are a direct combination of Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later and George Romero’s Dead movies. They’re fast, aggressive, and have an appetite for human flesh. (The movie is being billed as Seagal vs. vampires, but these baddies are less interested in sucking your blood than they are in eating your spleen.) Seagal is Commander Tao, leader of an ass-kicking quartet of neighborhood watch commandos known as hunters. He’s joined by Tagart (Tanoai Reed) and two mute, helpless, mildly hot women. (So make that an ass-kicking duo.) The group wanders the streets killing the infected with guns, swords, and judo chops, but when they enter a hospital housing the last human survivors in the city, it’s a race against time (and the dark!) before the military nukes the entire place.
This could have been an entertaining movie. Really. Seagal still has the occasionally cool move, a truly impressive feat for the rotund and squinty-eyed action star, and dropping him into a horror movie is an inspired idea. Unfortunately, the idea and the execution are worlds apart. Seagal himself is one of the biggest problems (and no, that’s not because he looks like a pregnant Eskimo). He rarely speaks, he spends way too much time walking up and down hallways, most of his fights consist of tepid swordplay, and he’s in less than half of the movie. The rest of it follows the mentally challenged group of survivors holed up inside the hospital as they try to make their way down to a security door before it automatically locks them in to die. (Is this a common feature in hospitals?) The questions commence. Why wouldn’t they just exit through the same doors they entered or maybe through a window? Why would they take the elevator when the generator’s threatening to die and one of the characters actually says they shouldn’t because the power might go out while they’re inside? (And it does.) Why do they warn that the virus is super contagious via blood, saliva, etc., but choose to fight with swords and walk all willy nilly through bloody corpses and body parts? Why are the survivors in the hospital referred to as the “last of humanity” when there’s a bustling military camp right outside the city? Speaking of the military, why the hell aren’t they the ones eliminating the infected instead of Tao, Tagart, and their two pieces of leather-clad eye candy? And speaking of the survivors, why do they wander around repeatedly refusing to pick up weapons of any kind?
Oh, and what the hell is wrong with Seagal’s voice? This one I can answer. Per the end credits, Tao’s voice belongs to one Alin Olteanu. What the fuck?
If Against the Dark has one bright spot it’s Tanoai Reed. He’s commonly described as Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson’s cousin, but his work should really stand on its own. As Johnson’s stunt double over the years, Reed has been a part of some fantastic action scenes including the amazing work in The Rundown. He finally gets a chance to play an actual character here, and while his acting skills need some more work his fighting is top-notch. The movie gives him multiple opportunities to showcase his skills too. Tagart repeatedly splits from the group to go clean out different areas, and each time finds him fighting multiple baddies. Presumably Tao spends this time banging the two women.
There’s really no getting around the fact that Against the Dark is a bad movie. (Although I expect Fure to chime in shortly telling me how wrong I am again, but he watches all of his movies drunk so his opinion is suspect.) There are a few early scenes of carnage and flesh-eating, but not enough to satisfy gorehounds. Action fans are left wanting as the movie slows to a crawl way too often, and with only a couple exceptions (Reed) the fights are pretty lame. Fans of Seagal will be unsatisfied with his limited appearances. Comedy fans however, may find some unintentional laughs here. A few can be found in the DVD’s sole special feature, a “making of” doc, including one of the producers claiming the film’s virus “is like nothing you’ve ever seen before in that it causes human beings to only want to feed on blood.” One scene in the movie itself that warranted multiple viewings features Seagal’s (sorry, Olteanu’s) longest piece of dialogue, and it’s awesome. He manages to be simultaneously half-urban, half-cajun, and all man.
Come here boy. Listen man. I’m gonna give you dis. Now, you take the women and the girl up top. Head south. There’s a safe camp d’ere. You get everybody safe you hear? This is a fully auto pistol. It goes fast so don’t spend it all in one place you hear? Get going. Get safe.”
Against the Dark will be released by Sony Pictures DVD on February 10th. Check out the trailer below.
The Upside: Tanoai Reed is surprisingly charismatic and manages some fairly exciting fight scenes
The Downside: Seagal is basically a supporting character here; much of the action remains unseen due to extremely dark cinematography; stupid behavior; weak swordplay; stock footage; Seagal is apparently dubbed; the ending features the veiled threat of a sequel