(aka “Monster Truck”, apparently)
I’ve seen so many terrible SyFy Channel films – devoid of any craft, tedious, humourless, lazy – that to watch one that’s good on purpose is still a bit of a shock. The gradual sense of “hold on, I’m enjoying this” is the equivalent of going into a burnt-out McDonalds and finding someone in there who’s serving a perfect steak.
In 1735, a 13th child is born to a 13th child, and this is triggers some ancient prophecy, apparently. I always liked the 7th son of a 7th son thing, myself, but anyway! Tearing itself out of the mother’s belly is a…creature…of some sort, and it does a fair bit of damage before it’s subdued by a group of monks. Also inside the mother is a human-looking baby girl, the only difference being that she has a tail.
The opening credits give us, in animated and voiceover form, their life for the next 270+ years – they’re effectively immortal and able to gradually regenerate from most injuries, with no explanation given. They’re guarded by the same religious order, and the prophecy is always there in the background, that there will come a final battle between man and beast, on the spot where the beast was born. The brother escapes from time to time and starts the legend of the Jersey Devil, but the sister – Zib – is able to control him, by and large.
The order has a collection of religious relics which look like the sort of tat you’d be able to buy in a gift shop in Rome, but seem to work to an extent, and are the only thing that offer protection against the “Halos”, which are the hallucinations that the brother is able to place in peoples’ minds. Well, the other thing is weakening both of them, and they have rather an unpleasant way of doing that – he gets his wings chopped off, and she has a tailectomy.
He’s becoming too powerful even with all their plans, so after a discussion they decide to take him to a new base, and this involves a large sigil-encrusted cell being placed in the back of a truck. This journey, where the armed wing of the order tries to keep him under control is really effective – with a great scene at a petrol station, and eventually a pretty spectacular (by SyFy standards) truck stunt, as they are plagued with hallucinations and try to fight them off while keeping the journey going. He’s able to manipulate things so he gets closer and closer to the site of his birth and the culmination of the prophecy, while Zib has an extremely conflicted relationship with both her captors and her brother.
Not only is this a tense thriller, but it’s also a pretty original idea – something you can say about very very few SyFy films. And it’s all anchored by an amazing central performance from Evalena Marie as Zib. She’s a physical force, and you can see how she’s torn between love for and fear of her brother, hatred and admiration of her captors and the alternating desire to save the world or watch it burn for how it treated her. She’s just brilliant, and I look forward to seeing her in more films. Her captors are, after all, good religious people who’ve given up their lives to keep the two of them under lock and key for the world’s benefit, and as they fight amongst themselves as to the best way of dealing with the Jersey Devil, and try and hold themselves together while their chaotic journey rumbles on, it dawns on you that they’re having a serious conversation about a serious topic, it’s well written, well performed and not just filling time to the next fight scene. The use of the “haloes” to trick and confuse both the guards and the viewers is a neat little trick too.
It wouldn’t be a SyFy review without the “well, it’s not all good” section. The second tier of acting is pretty ropey, and the special effects aren’t all they could be. Tom Sizemore, as the “bad” side of the religious protectors, is a bit too evil sometimes, but that might just be how Tom Sizemore acts in 2014. That’s about it though!
I hope both director Daniel Wise and writer Ben Crane go on to bigger things, as this is their first credit. It’s not just a good film, but visually interesting too, which for SyFy is almost never the case; and Evalena Marie is just fantastic (and is making her own films now, so keep an eye out for her). SyFy Channel, if you read this, which is I admit unlikely, “Dark Haul” is the sort of movie you should be making! Give young, fresh talent a try and let them make more interesting films, and you’ll be rewarded with gems like this.
Rating: thumbs up