By Shawn Hoult
There is a sub-genre exploding in Hollywood these days and it is the sci-fi horror. Ever since Ridley Scott wowed audiences with his terrifying masterpiece Alien, directors everywhere have attempted to copy his terror-in-space format. A few of these films (Event Horizon) have been successful, however, the vast majority have failed. Pitch Black, the new film from director David Twohy (The Arrival) is one of these failures.
Pitch Black tells the story of a group of survivors of a space crash who end up on a moon of Saturn and soon find out that they are not alone. It turns out the moon is host to a nasty bunch of dark-loving aliens and to make matters worse, one of the survivors is an escaped killer. This certainly sounds like a recipe for excitement and terror, but nothing could be further from the truth. From the opening sequence it is obvious Twohy is not up to the task. However, Twohy’s unimaginative directing is far from being the films biggest problem. That dubious honour belongs to Radha Mitchell who plays the docking pilot, Fry. Mitchell, a relatively unknown Australian actress is the film’s token buxom blonde and it quickly becomes apparent she was hired for her curves and not her acting ability.
Although most of the acting in Pitch Black is atrocious, there are a few bright spots in the film as Vin Diesel (Saving Private Ryan) and Cole Hauser (Higher Learning) give respectable performances. Diesel plays the brooding-yet-witty anti-hero Riddick, the hardened criminal whom everyone must learn to trust if they want to survive. The only thing standing in between Riddick and freedom is Johns (Hauser). Johns is a hard-nosed lawman who has more than his share of secrets. Although these characters are interesting, they are not nearly enough to carry the film’s slow-moving and undeveloped plot.
Twohy seems to have a reasonable grasp on the sci-fi aspect of the movie as the effects and scenery are interesting. The film’s downfall, however, comes in the horror aspect, as the scenery and effects are all but wasted by the lack of plot. Twohy does not deliver either the suspense or character development necessary to make a movie scary. Whether it is by making them jump or by throwing curves into the plot, a good horror movie should always surprise its audience. Pitch Black has very few surprises with any possible scares or twists ruined by over-foreshadowing.
Even with most of the film being set in total darkness, what should be a foreboding fear of the unknown is lost to the audience who is far too removed from the characters to care whether they live or die.
Pitch Black is another formula film that spent too much time on special effects and not enough time on a story to go with them.