If you’ve ever played Mortal Kombat and thought it would be better with Lovecraftian Elder Gods instead of a bunch of assholes from a pseudo-Hell, then Black Site is the movie you’ve been waiting for. At least, it tries to be…
…The next title from indie genre heavyweight, Dread, Black Site is written/directed by Tom Paton (Redwood), and deals with an alternate universe where Earth has been invaded by Elder Gods straight out of H.P. Lovecraft’s mythos, which are basically giant floating octopi with a bad attitude. To combat the creatures, a group named Artemis has been formed, operating at a place known as the Black Site, where they have the ability to create a dimensional rip and send the ugly Elders back to where they came from. The film follows Ren (Samantha Schnitzler), a guard at the site. When soldiers arrive with a human body bound to the Elder, Erebus (Kris Johnson), the creature who killed Ren’s family, things don’t quite go as planned.
Black Site opens on a gleeful note, with a sequence detailing the Black Site which is reminiscent of the Escape from New York opening that goes over what’s happened to New York. Set to an inspired retro score by Max Sweiry, Paton’s film immediately washes over the audience with a wave of 80s genre nostalgia. Black Site is heavily influenced by John Carpenter films like Escape from New York, Assault on Precinct 13, and Big Trouble in Little China, and that love is obvious. Fans will revel in these first few minutes of Black Site, at least I hope so, because the film never quite reaches the same high again.
Immediately missing from Black Site is a character like Snake Plissken, or even Sonya Blade. It isn’t that Ren isn’t a character we can root for, but more that she, like the rest of the cast, just aren’t that interesting outside of basic features, such as the scarred eye of villainous sword-fighter, Ker (Phoebe Robinson-Galvin). Ren has all the typical traits of a badass hero: She’s rough, tough, and loves one liners, and she really wants to fuck up Erebus. The problem is, her character lacks in personality, and Schnitzler never quite gets her to pop. What is great about the cast is that Black Site is a film where the women run the show, and are easily more kick-ass than the men. Ren even has a moment where her wimpy partner, Sam (Mike Beckingham), claims he is the hero, to which Ren responds, “dude, you’re the side-kick”. It isn’t often that a film like this has a female heroine, female villain, and a female boss in charge of the Black Site, Wilkinson (Angela Dixon). In fact, the film even features phenomenal actresses Sophia Del Pizzo and Lauren Ashley Carter. It’s refreshing to see such a cast, which makes it all the more disappointing that these characters are as dull as the paper they were conceived on.
Set in this underground lab where a cult of over fifty are invading to free Erebus, Black Site works like Escape From New York and The Raid got together to give an Elder God a knuckle sandwich. There are very few guns in this film, relegating our heroes to loads of hand to hand combat, with a few swords mixed in here and there. But all of these characters appear more adept at spouting one-liners than actual fighting, with choreography that leaves a lot to be desired, though isn’t too bad for a low-budget film. The crime here is that Paton’s film comes across as beyond tame for what should be a gritty, effects-driven explosion. Instead, Black Site is void of any blood or outrageous kills in a movie with a premise that screams over-the-top bloodbath. You can’t put a giant octopus monster in the sky and NOT have at least a few drops of blood. Karate Kid has more intense action than Black Site.
And while Black Site isn’t exactly slow, the pacing is a bumpy ride at best. Constantly interrupting the action are visions Ren shares with Erebus, or scenes of Erebus giving a good ole exposition dump to Wilkinson. What’s worse, is these visions and other interruptions are the same shots being used over, and over, and over again, making the film seem as if it’s never moving forward. It’s not at all that I’m against plot (there isn’t much here), it’s that I wish there was MORE plot to wrap our slimy tentacles around, but since there isn’t, the film needs to keep the heart-rate going to at least hold the audience’s attention. Throwing in scenes like Erebus talking about his dead lover, Nix, add nothing that affects the story, and therefore only works to grind the action to a halt.
Black Site has its 80s-loving heart in the right place, and I don’t doubt that Paton’s script looked like a blast on paper. But with an unsatisfying ending and action/violence that leaves a lot to be desired, Black Site will disappoint anyone looking for a true homage to the effects extravaganza that was the 80s. The premise is brilliant, and I wanted to love Black Site, but this wasn’t the Elder God action movie for me.
By Matt Konopka