IN BLACK - THE DARK WATCHERS
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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