Monday, 20 June 2016

Dylan Dog: Dead of Night - review

2010 (USA)

Contains spoilers.

I really wanted to really like director Kevin Munroe's comic-book inspired crime-noir b-movie horror-comedy-thriller. A vast and complex web of vampires, werewolves and zombies all hidden in plain sight, ancient tensions and a fragile peace held in a precarious and perpetual balance, and a broken, disillusioned private investigator the only person with both the knowledge and will to redeem himself and hold it all together. It's all there. Underworld, Blade, Buffy, True Blood; even Twilight (ok maybe stretching it) found a way, and with the rich and abundant source material (Tiziano Sclavi's 80 odd Italian comics), and the budget to make it happen, it should be have been easy. Now I'm not going to make the case that Dead of Night is a bad film; far from, it; but as a woefully missed opportunity, I'll call it now. And what makes it worse and me genuinely quite angry is its problems are all its own making.

Cheesy crime-noir atmosphere with narration, a recognisable actor in Bradon Routh (Superman Returns and Ray Palmer / Atom in the DC comic reboots) as Dylan Dark and a fairly dark jumpy death discovery and werewolf encounter. Things actually start pretty well; the characters are interesting and the drip fed unveiling of the underworld engaging. We learn about New Orleans, as the undead Mecca, of werewolves that can control their transformation and of the vampire hierarchy and their subtle control of the vulnerable with the misuse of their blood as a narcotic. It's a world within the world with a rich history and complex dynamics; and the death of a local importer by an undead, and the bringing in of Dylan as lead investigator by his daughter Elizabeth (Anita Briem) has all the clans and tribes on edge.

As said, it all sounds good? So what went wrong? Two things. I first started having doubts when the zombies were introduced. While the set-up wasn't the most dark and macabre cinema I've yet watched it was still edgy, sombre and believable. With the death of Dylan's best friend Marcus (Sam Huntington) and his subsequent reintroduction I was soon to learn that in Dead of Night zombies were to directly equate to goofy light-relief, and nothing more. Now I understand that the film was also a bit of a comedy, and some of the gags were successful, but whether it's zombie cleaning regiments, zombie support groups, zombie cuisine or chop shops, it's as if the writers were given a bumper book of zombie jokes for Christmas and no one at any point told them they shouldn't try and include all of them. The humour becomes ultimately distracting and the sheer quantity of farce threatens to overwhelm all the other elements that were teased.

Which brings us on to the second main reason I think it unravelled the longer it went on. Last year I finished Tell Tales' The Wolf Among Us. It's another crime-noir with witches, vampires and werewolves and a less than perfect lone man trying to keep the peace. It's story was intricate and engaging and most importantly full of twists, surprises and nuance; and quite the opposite of what Dead of Night eventually becomes. Dead of Night has a cookie-cutter approach to story with every plot and sub-narrative playing out exactly as you think it will. An intriguing story is set-up then it's as if the writers and director hadn't planned in any detail what they'd do, so drop the mystery from the murder, resort to cliché vampire / zombie / werewolf scenes as if working from a tick sheet hoping the zombie gag show will save them. It's all rather a hodgepodge of albeit sometimes good, extraneous ideas that culminates in a grand finale that fails in to deliver either a surprise or any real satisfaction.

As stated and not quite as intended maybe Dylan Dog: Dead of Night inadvertently becomes more of a zombie comedy sketch show, than a vampire,  werewolf or undead hard-boiled movie. The zombies are dead but they're still exactly as they were though now rotting and rather more foul smelling. They can only eat human flesh and maggots though as cognisant and still with conscience they generally tend for the latter and as there's quite the active secret and lively social scene with jobs and help available being a zombie is more an inconvenience than a state of being. That is of course as long as you don't let it slide. One of the more intriguing ideas is that without due care and attention it can all slide Walking Dead, gnarly, and mindless flesh eating even with the additional predilection for zombie flesh. It's only briefly played with but from a zombie perspective an interesting one; again though as part of a whole film it was fun but was it really necessary or integral?

Maybe I'm being too harsh and maybe what Dead of Night suffers from was simply trying too hard; showing us too many things, playing with too many ideas with the consequence of seeing the narrative forced to accommodate, and dumbed down as a result. What we do have is a story of murder, betrayal and grand if twisted motives, which if extracted and looked at with a critical eye would unfortunately be found lacking in coherence, imagination and intelligence. Of course all this of course wasn't helped by, if I'm honest, quite the wooden one dimensional performance from a lead I thought at first would be ideally suited, and whilst it takes quite a lot for me to actually call out an actor, such is his and disinterested demeanour and forced chemistry with both Elizabeth and Brandon, he actually makes the film worse just by being in it.  A real missed opportunity, but not a wholly bad film; Mr Dog certainly deserved more though - 5/10.


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