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The Strange Things Boutique




DVD. Reality Films

Men in Black - The Dark Watchers“It’s serious stuff, not joking stuff”

As you are doubtless aware, Men in Black is an inexplicably successful big budget sci-fi franchise. This film is not a part of that series. No sir. In fact, it’s a low budget British effort. This suggests that either the phrase ‘men in black’ is in such common use that it can’t be copyrighted, or that the franchise is using the same legal team as the Emmanuelle producers. Full marks to Reality Films for their slight cover title tweak though, presumably in order to circumnavigate any possibility of confusion from viewers or legal teams.

This is a science fiction film from British auteur Philip Gardiner, who’s earlier movie The Stone I’ve tried and failed to watch several times. While that dealt with the occult, this is a tale of alien invaders – or something. In fact, it’s quite hard to figure out what is going on here for a lot of the time, but the basic plot seems to involve a bunch of female UFO enthusiasts, who visit a local sighting hotspot and then find they’ve lost four hours of their lives and are haunted by a ghostly Man In Black, a creepy dark figure, mysterious phone calls and black goo that appears on their bodies.

Gardiner doesn’t seem sure what he wants to make here – The X-Files or Paranormal Activity. So we go from strange alien beings to surveillance-style footage and ghostly happening, without any real explanation of what is going on. And that’s one of the major problems here – it’s a film that is all idea and no story. Things happen but we don’t know why; characters appear and disappear; and everything eventually fizzles out with no real conclusion.

It’s a pity because there are a surprising amount of interesting visuals here. The switching from colour to black and white and back is a lazy attempt to be arty and edgy, but there are some great, creepily weird visual moments – radiation-suited scientists carrying out nocturnal experiments on unsuspecting sleepers, the barely seen alien being and the ghostly MIB presence. But without a coherent story, it’s simply a series of impressive set pieces that have no meaning.

But the film is eventually scuppered by the performances. Now, presumably a willingness to take their clothes off was more important than acting ability for the lead actresses, but that hardly explains the male cast. Dialogue feels like it is being improvised – there’s no way anyone could write anything this laboured and authentically fumbling. That might be an interesting approach with actors who can pull that sort of thing off, but the cast here are not up to the job and their delivery of lines feels stilted and self-conscious. Add the fact that the sound recording is so poor – clearly no ADR here! – and it makes the dialogue scenes – of which there are a lot – extremely painful.

Gardiner’s visuals do suggest that he might have a good film in him if he is given a solid screenplay and a capable cast. As it is, this is an interesting, but ultimately frustrating failure.





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