Dark Rising: Bring Your Battle-Axe (2007)

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I feel like I’ve stumbled down a dark alley into an alternate universe, one where a sci-fi/comedy franchise can get to three films, one TV series with another in the pipeline…and it can fly completely under the radar of a hardcore fan of both those genres like me. Maybe Canada wanted to keep it to themselves?

It really doesn’t start well, which might be a reason it didn’t travel too far. After a “whoops my Dad opened a portal to Hell” opening featuring a young girl, we meet Jason, a sort of bland everyman and Ricky, his sleazy friend who films adverts for sex phone lines. They’re organising a camping trip along with their friend Renee so Jason can try to reconcile with his ex-fiancee Jasmine – only problem is, she decided she was a lesbian three weeks ago and brings along her new girlfriend Marlene. The three women are also witches, but Jasmine and Marlene are more bothered about sort-of kissing than they are witchcraft.

That sounds stupid, doesn’t it? The acting is really, really bad here, with Jason and Jasmine by far the worst. It’s not remotely believable or funny, with the only bright spot being non-actor Jay Reso, best known to wrestling fans as WWE superstar Christian, as Ricky. The problem is, the film thinks all this is hilarious, and tells us so by using that stereotypical “comedy” music – hard to describe, but it’s a light plinky-plonky thing which you’ll recognise as soon as you hear it. Handy of the film to tell us when the comedy sections are happening, even if it’s not 100% accurate.

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In between this, Renee “dreams” of Summer Vale, who disappeared 10 years ago. Hey, didn’t we see a kid disappear at the beginning of this movie? Anyway, she buys an old book full of demon incantations from a mysterious book-seller (which once belonged to Summer’s dad, implausibly enough) for $15. What? A huge old interesting-looking book and he’s only charging $15 for it? Sorry. She buys a book, reads an incantation, portal is opened, demon comes out, so does Summer (who we realise is the warrior-woman we’ve been seeing in demon-world training to become the best fighter ever, throughout the film).

So we have a forest, some young people, and a mysterious demon bad guy. The first half of the film is so plodding that I could forgive you for abandoning it, but towards the end it starts to warm up. When they don’t have time for stupid “comedy” scenes, the humour flows more naturally from the situation…and the monster at least gives the film a reason to exist, operating like your traditional slasher movie villain.

I would imagine the people who made this film either wouldn’t care or would try and spin it the other way, but the treatment of women is pretty laughable in this. Summer Vale, who’s been fighting supernatural evil for a decade or so, luckily could only afford an armoured bikini to wear, and the lesbian scene was so unerotic, unfunny and un-entertaining that it ought to be used to correct the psyche of lesbian porn addicts. I’d normally say at this point “no-one’s watching a sci-fi comedy film about demon portals to see lesbians”, but literally every review on the IMDB says “and it’s got a lesbian scene too! What more could you want?” I’m fighting a losing battle, readers, and I’m sorry for that. But it does get boring watching a film like this just recreate the worst stereotypes of women, coat them in a sheen of wink-wink knowingness and pretend like they’re not being sexist. That the director is married to the woman playing Summer is even more baffling.

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But I did mention it sort of being okay, didn’t I? As the annoying characters are killed off, and Jason finally is told that his fiancée is now a lesbian (well, and possessed by a demon), the stupidity lessens enough to allow enjoyment. I mean, it’s a long way from being great, or even good, but it’s probably worth continuing with the series to see what pops up. Colin Mochrie, legendary Canadian improv comedian, pops up in a later instalment, as do several moderately more famous / decent actors.

Don’t spend more than a few seconds pondering any of the variety of plot holes and weird errors this film commits, as that would ruin the film. Just try and squint through the garbage, and let’s all keep our fingers crossed that the later TV series and films at least give Summer (installed as co-hero of the franchise, come film’s end) a little more to do.

Rating: thumbs down

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