AVAILBLE ON DVD: NOW
RUNNING TIME: 104 mins
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
1955. A woman awakens in an tunnel being dragged along by a zombie-like creature with only the vagueist of recollections as to how she got there. She manages to kill the monster and in one of her pockets finds an ID card identifying her as a cook named Frances. She stumbles on bumbling scientist Professor Richard Baughman and then handcuffed soldier Private Briggs. The three have to try to survive in an underground maze populated by gut chomping creatures. Gradually their memories begin to return and they learn more about their surroundings and the larger implications of the experiments that have put them in their current predicament….
This micro budget sci-fi horror mystery, which plays like a cross between Resident Evil, Event Horizon and one of those old Dr Who episodes where it’s just nothing more than lots of wandering around corridors, does deliver a bit of B-movie fun here and there, but overall it’s a bit of a drag. One of its biggest problems is the low budget. Now I’m often prone to being kinder to a cheap effort than an expensive one, but sometimes one wonders how on earth the filmmakers thought that the meagre resources would be enough to successfully realise the story they were telling, and this is certainly the case with The Rizen. You can do walking around dark corridors with virtually no money at all, but The Rizen gets quite ambitious – in fact too ambitious for the money its creators had at their disposal. One other thing I should say right now is that Adrian Edmondson, Tom Goodman-Hill, Bruce Payne, Sally Phillips and Julian Rhind-Tutt may be top billed, but their parts are more like extended cameos. This means that for much of the film we are stuck with acting from three leads who are – well, let’s just be kind and say that acting is not their forte.
The titles, an old song played over flashes of a laboratory and, well, things going on in it [you can’t really make them out], create quite an unsettling mood, and the opening scene is promising for a while as our heroine, haunted by vague memories of two men talking about her, turns the tables on the thing dragging her and uses a rock to batter its head about 20 times to a pulp. Unfortunately the audio, something which is another major problem with this film, in no way conveys what is ocurring on screen, sounding like she’s hitting papier mache [which she may well have been, but the audio badly needed fixing]. Later on whole dialogue scenes are partly drowned out by – well, nothing but tiny background noise which is quite a feat really. Anyway, Frances is played by stuntwoman Laura Swift and she does convince as someone with considerable strength and fury. She’s certainly good in the action scenes. Unfortunately, her line delivery is pretty awful and sometimes painful to watch and here. However, she’s soon joined by a performer called Christopher Tajah who gives one of the most bizarrely funny examples of thesping I’ve seen in some time, with a very strange version of a posh English accent and weird facial expressions – though given some of the lines he has to deliver this is perhaps understandable. There is a bit of intentional humour in this film, so I couldn’t decide whether the character of Baughman was intended to be so goofy or not. In any case, he’s probably the most sheerly entertaining aspect of the movie, at least in my opinion. Some viewers may be of the opposite view and will just want him to just shut up.
The two do lots of wondering about before they find another professor in a jail cell writing the word ‘rizen’ in her own blood over and over. The toothy creature in her cell kills her and drags her away before they can save her, but luckily she drops a pencil on her way out, leading to a bizarre bit where they bargain hard to get the pencil from another professor who appears out of nowhere in time to claim it as his. They discover that they all have numbers written on their arms that nobody understands, and Baughman finds a note pad in a pocket full of occult symbols and mathematical equations. The two soon become three as Private Briggs joins the action, though said action is rather repetitious. The humans encounter a creature quite often, but the fights with them tend to consist of little more than the humans bashing their heads in repeatedly – and we don’t even get to see the gore here in any kind of detail. There are some amusingly dumb moments though, like when somebody says: “lots of them coming”, and our three main protagonists run really slowly down some corridors. I’m sure that wasn’t intended to be funny. Then again we also have a professor who says that everyone else should all make lots of noise so any rescuers can hear them. Again, it’s hard to tell whether one is supposed to laugh or not.
Every five minutes or so we get a brief flashback as one of the main characters remembers something clearly. I was surprised at a film like this making such extensive use of the device that we virtually have two parallel stories going on, though a few of the scenes would have benefited from being combined, and it’s often hard to get into the main action when you know you’re suddenly going to be thrown out of it by a flashback in a few minutes time. As with any film featuring flashbacks worth its salt, sometimes a character will suddenly recall something at the most convenient time. After a while, we get some concrete information on what’s been going on. It seems that the military have been up to no good again, NATO and the Allied Forces [well it makes a nice change from Nazis or Russians] have been conducting secret, occult experiments in a bid to win the Arms Race, and the scientists involved soon find themselves drawn ever deeper into this by the fact that the new discoveries they are making seem increasingly tied to genuine physics rather than just being nonsense. However, ‘something’ is opened, and that’s all I’m going to say. In fact it’s all a bit vague and I wasn’t entirely sure what was going on towards the end. The finale really is a perfect example of a film that tries to do too much on too small of a budget, though I did like the very brief flashes of a blood-type monster [it’s sometimes more effective when your mind has to fill in the rest], plus the H. P. Lovecraft elements – and the ending is quite surprising and brave despite the poor CGI being used.
In fact for most of the time it looks like practical effects are being employed, and hurrah to that, because if you’ve watched enough ‘B-movies than you’ll probably agree that cheap, poor CGI is far uglier to look at and often even less convincing than cheap, poor practical effects. It’s a shame that we never get a good look at the chief creatures [though we get a better view of some different ones later – odd], though there’s some okay intestine chomping. Swift is allowed to show off some moves in one half decent fight sequence with some soldiers, though the most memorable scene of excessive brutality is probably when the meek Baughman joins Briggs in enthusiastically stamping a monster to death, the two eventually doing it in unison while blood spatters onto the camera. “It’s eating his face”. “Not any more” is a dialogue exchange you’ll probably remember. But the film quickly runs out of ideas and just repeats the same situations over and over again. The overall mystery ought to just be intriguing enough to keep most viewers watching, but there’s little actual tension and you certainly won’t be frightened. A really skillful director would have used the plentiful darkness to its full advantage and really got the viewer on edge, but Matt Mitchell [Gangsters, Girls And Zombies, the virtually unreleased It Never Sleeps] doesn’t seem to try very hard in this respect.
The flashbacks are effectively blurry, in fact the whole film looks slightly soft focus. Some scenes have a hand coloured look to them in places. It’s an odd choice by cinematographer Jamie Burr and I’m not sure the right one, though at least some effort has been made in this area. The Rizen certainly has its amusing moments and a few decent ones here and there, but it’s also a bit dreary in a lot of places and isn’t as fun as it should be. In fact, without the incredible performance from Tajah who really livens up some of the deadest passages, I may have been gotten a little bored. The Rizen must have more than recouped its cost though as The Rizen 2 is coming. Maybe this will allow for a bit more money, time and effort to better fufil the potential that one can sometimes spot here.