Thursday, September 06, 2018

Broken Darkness Cannot Piece Itself Back Together Again: A Film Review

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*full disclosure: an online screener of this film was provided by one of the members of the cast.

Director/writer: Christopher-Lee dos Santos

Cast: Sean Cameron Michael, Suraya Santos, Brandon Auret, Jonathan Pienaar and Ryan Kruger.

Broken Darkness is a post-apocalyptic title, from South Africa. Previously titled Last Broken Darkness, this film was shot by director Christopher-Lee dos Santos. Broken Darkness stars: Sean Cameron Michael ("Black Sails"), Brandon Auret (Elysium), Suraya Santos and Jonathan Pienaar. Much of the film takes place after a devastating meteorite strike; survivors must live below ground, or face the radiation and infection above. For the first hour, everything story-wise comes across well. Then, the tone shifts from a serious dramatic thriller to an overly sombre series of scenes. This shift, in tone, is a bit disconcerting. Also, somewhat reminiscent of Jeff Renfroe's The Colony (2013) and John Hillcoat's The Road (2009), Broken Darkness brings the post-apocalyptic thrills on a much smaller budget. The film also brings too many genres, on-board. The result: Broken Darkness can itself be seen as a bit disassembled as dos Santos struggles to find his message.

The story stays with the character Sam (Cameron Michael) through most of the film. He has just lost his son as a meteoric catastrophe takes place, across the world. Safe below ground, the film fast-forwards eight years in time. Now, Sam has teamed up with Troy (Auret), to work in an underground mine. Here, survivors busy themselves with: water pipes, railcars and vegetable gardens. Peace only lasts so long as infected hordes descend into the tunnels. How did they get in? That question is not answered. But, the character Sam finds some of his own reason for living, by working with others, like the character Rose (Santos). Can Sam let go of his grief, by connecting with someone in the present? The cannibals and bandits have their own answers to this question.

The major detriment, to the film, is its tonal shift. Everything plays out as one might expect, from a post-apocalyptic film, for the first hour. Then, the characters reach the surface. At this point, the music shifts and so does the film's tone. Instead of tense drama, there is now a very sombre tone, which pauses the film for close to a half hour. Sam and and Rose wax philosophical. Meanwhile, infected characters have disappeared and so has the action. There is very little tension and conflict through this middle act. And, this shift from dramatic action to sadness is a bit disruptive to the film's overall tone and cohesion.

Still, dos Santos knows his post-apocalyptic material. Early parts of the film could be compared to an earloer title, The Colony; later parts are more like The Road. In The Colony, characters also must reside deep below ground, with their plants and supplies. Camps are connected through communication and there is even an adjoining railway line, in Broken Darkness. Dos Santos has definitely been influenced by this earlier film, starring Laurence Fishburne and Bill Paxton. This later film almost plays out like a scene by scene recreation of the former, at times. Once the characters hit the surface, the film gears down as mentioned above. Now, the two characters hit the road. Occasionally, they will loot a house. Scarred infected look for an easy meal, in Sam or Rose. There are still more threats. Bandits, soldiers and lazy cannibals lay in wait and this duo must dodge them all. Broken Darkness wears its influences on its sleeves, which is a good thing.

Unfortunately, Broken Darkness also wears too many hats. Dos Santos tries to incorporate too many genres, into this 110 minute film. Is this a sci-fi film? The early spfx laden scenes of falling meteorites would say yes. Is this a horror film? Creatures drag characters into darkened pipes, so the answer is again - yes. Is this a thriller? There is a bit of tension as characters struggle to discover what is hunting them, below ground. Is this an action film? There is a lot of gunfire, with Rangers fighting off irradiated and infectious mutants. So, the film is at least in part an action film. Is this a post-apocalyptic film? Events take place after an environmental disaster. Crazily, survivors are living below ground for no reason. The Earth has healed after eight years and the initial destruction. Still, with all of these genres, Broken Darkness tries to cover too much ground and fails to cover any one genre with a focused intensity. The result is that the film, like the title suggests, is a bit broken.

Broken Darkness has released in Japan, earlier this year. Still, this title does not have an official release date in North America. Broken Darkness has been influenced by some of the films that have come before it. But, this release has not improved on these earlier films, perhaps because of its significantly smaller budget. Other films, at this production level, have done better though (What Still Remains, 2018). As well, Broken Darkness tries to cover too many genres and in doing so, it fails to capture any one genre substantially. There is a dramatic tonal shift in the middle act and this might be your chance to grab a resupply of popcorn. However, a film should not change this much, especially through the middle portion and for so long. Finally, a villain is only tacked on, late in the picture. And, Sam is the only character with a backstory and any real complexity. Many of the other characters could be put on the cannibals' pyre without much notice or loss.

Overall: 6.25 out of 10.

A trailer for Broken Darkness (as Last Broken Darkness) is available here: A Broken Darkness Trailer on 28DLA

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