Were it not for the fact that it’s considered one of the worst films ever made, Alone in the Dark would easily have been one of our Films That Time Forgot – its terrible reputation is really its only legacy.
An adaptation of the video game series of the same name, Alone in the Dark stars Christian Slater, Tara Reid, and Stephen Dorff, and was directed by famed Hollywood madman Uwe Boll.
In all honesty, I’m not overly familiar with the Alone in the Dark franchise (having only played one of the games and deeply despising it), so I can’t personally speak to how loyal Boll’s adaptation is to its source material. What I can speak to, though, is what the experience of watching Alone in the Dark is really like.
Marketed as an “action horror”, Alone in the Dark barely works on either level. The only horror to be had is the horror of a bad script, bad acting, and truly laughable CGI monsters, and the film’s action is so insane and directionless that it feels a little like watching a group of PCP-fuelled teenagers scrapping in the local park.
Perhaps the best criticism of Alone in the Dark is to simply try to explain its narrative – if you can call it that. The film attempts to follow Bureau 713, a covert research agency (that also apparently has legions of soldiers wearing cheap hockey pads), and their research of the ancient Abkani tribe, which inadvertently meddles with apocalyptic magic involving mysterious invisible lizard-like parasitic alien creatures. Still following? No, me neither.
Christian Slater stars as Edward Carnby, a paranormal investigator who formerly worked for Bureau 713, and who also just happens to be the proud owner of some conveniently repressed memories regarding 713’s experimentation on him as an orphaned child. The utter convoluted nonsense that is the film’s plot becomes increasingly tangled up in Carnby’s past – including his sort-of girlfriend Aline (Reid) and the Bureau Professor responsible for the experimentation (which involved attaching parasitic alien creatures to the spines of children in order to create sleeper soldiers for the apocalypse).
Slater’s delivery of his ridiculous dialogue is that of a man all too aware that he’s in the cinematic equivalent of waking up to a steaming pile of human waste in your bed, and Tara Reid valiantly tries to deliver her lines as though she’s in an actual film, although the shame in her eyes is all too evident. Dorff, on the other hand, simply possesses a boundless and inexplicable rage throughout, most likely frustration with the ludicrous plot, hammy dialogue, and nonsensical direction.
Alone in the Dark‘s effects are laughable, but not just for its CGI (which is pretty abysmal). The human-xeno hybrid sleeper agents (sorry, the film doesn’t really give them a proper name), are initially shown as human hosts to the parasitic creatures, but before long they’ve been made up to look like generic zombies (with make-up on par with low budget ’70s horror flicks, no less). It’s easy to miss this odd aesthetic shift, though, as it comes in one of the film’s most jarringly confusing and unintentionally hilarious scenes.
After trying (and failing) to establish some semblance of coherent plot, Alone in the Dark abruptly dives into an action sequence with no context whatsoever. One second, Slater and Reid are walking along, skulking through a warehouse, and then, the lights drop, generic heavy metal starts, and hordes of Bureau operatives burst through windows on wires and light up the warehouse with bullets as creatures and human-creature-hybrids swarm in. It comes entirely out of left field, and perhaps immortalises the moment that Uwe Boll achieved peak Uwe Boll.
It doesn’t get any better from there, either. The so-called story limps on, becoming more and more ridiculous as it goes, with Carnby and co. exploring the abandoned gold mine in which he was experimented on as a child (yes, you read that right). Eventually, they uncover a colossal chasm filled with the creatures, and, naturally, shoot at them a bit before trying to blow them up, which sort of works. Carnby emerges into an evacuated city, and one of the creatures runs towards him as the credits begin to roll in cinema’s most ambitious ever set-up for a sequel.
I can’t fully express what a ridiculous experience this film is, but it’s one of the most surreal things I’ve ever seen, made worse by its apparent seriousness. Boll genuinely intended this film to be a true blockbuster, and it’s presented as such, but the only way anyone would mistake this for an actual film is if it was the first one they’d ever seen – and even then, it’s 50-50.
Its acting is awful, but don’t blame the stars – blame instead the script that made zero sense, with even the most basic of interactions sounding as though they were written by someone suffering from severe cognitive impairment. As funny as Alone in the Dark is, it’s genuinely quite sad to see how many people worked on the film only to achieve a product so bad that it’s remembered only for its impossibly long list of shortcomings.
Summary: Alone in the Dark is, in fact, a film, and so a rating of 0 seemed unfair. It’s an approximation of what a film should look like, but don’t let it fool you, it’s only worth watching if you’re fully aware of what you’re getting into.
Highlights: There are genuinely no highlights, other than the parts in which Alone in the Dark is so awful it becomes laugh-out-loud funny (which is most of it).