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Dark Floors
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by Jay Seaver

"Lordi, Lordi, what this could have been..."
3 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2008 FANTASIA FESTIVAL: There are times when I feel guilty about being part of the American audience, which is simultaneously so big that international productions above a certain scale feel they need it to make back their budget, yet so fiercely parochial and well-served by what is made here that it's almost impossible to crack. This leads to things like "Dark Floors", a movie conceived by Finnish heavy-metal act Lordi and their music video director, opting to shoot in English and then having the cast they import from the UK affect American accents. I don't know that this movie would have better in Finnish, but it's hard not to wonder if maybe something got lost in translation.

We open with Sarah (Skye Bennett), an autistic girl who finds her MRI frightening even before the machine malfunctions, almost setting on fire. That's the tipping point for her father Ben (Noah Huntley), who decides that this hospital isn't going to do her much good and she might as well be comfortable at home, despite the warnings of nurse Emily (Dominique McElligott). The power goes out while they're in the elevator - shared with impatient businessman Jon (William Hope), mentally unstable Tobias (Ronald Pickup), and security guard Rick (Leon Herbert) - and when it finally comes back on, something is definitely not right: The sixth floor of the hospital seems to be completely empty, for starters, and that's before the ghosts and monsters start showing up.

Hospitals are scary places to begin with, and not necessarily because of the sickness. There's something unnatural about how cleanly-designed and sterile those places can be, and emptying them out makes them even more disconcerting - it increases the feeling of helplessness most non-medical professionals feel there. Dark Floors plays into all that, and then, just at the point where audiences might start taking that for granted, starts messing things up - the lower floors are dirtier and no longer unoccupied - ghosts, monsters, and corpses start appearing, bringing the atmosphere from unnerving-but-safe to outright dangerous.

Director Pete Riski deserves a lot of credit - though he's been doing commercials and music videos for a while, this is his first feature, and he's a very strong hand at the helm. Opportunities abound for things to become silly, but he always remembers that tension comes first. The monsters are played by Lordi, covered in monster make-up and wearing leather-and-iron heavy metal fetish gear, but Riski never lets them usurp the movie from the protagonists. Regardless of any problems the script might have, Riski nails the proper mood at every moment.

It's in part because Riski directs so well, indicating that there is in fact a clear vision at work, that the script is so frustrating. There are nifty scenes scattered throughout the movie, and the writing is clever enough to do some very nifty things with its time out of joint bits (several times, the audience seemed to get a kick out of realizing where bits were leading). The dialog is serviceable but not impressive - writing with an eye toward a foreign audience almost guarantees that. What's really just unforgivable is that ultimately, the movie doesn't seem to have much interest in why this is all happening. It drops a ton of hints that Sarah is important, Tobias says his share of cryptic things, but there is no tying them together such that the individually well-done ghosts, demons, mutilations, reanimated corpses, and distortions of time and space form a cohesive whole. It's not even good ambiguity, where what we see could reasonably support several situations; it's just a big mess.

And that's a crying shame. "Dark Floors" has enough going for it - noteworthy direction, decent acting, nice production values, and occasionally clever writing - that it could have been a real gem if that had all led to something, rather than just falling apart.

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originally posted: 07/19/08 02:50:34
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2008 Fantasia Film Festiva For more in the 2008 Fantasia Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: Fantastic Fest 2008 For more in the Fantastic Fest 2008 series, click here.

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  DVD: 14-Oct-2008



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