Monday, December 14, 2009

'Pitch Black' is a neat fusion of action, sci-fi and horror

Pitch Black (2000)
Starring: Vin Diesel, Radha Mitchell, and Claudia Black
Director: David Twohy
Rating: Eight of Ten Stars

In the sci-fi/horror flick "Pitch Black," a passenger ship is heavily damaged by the tail of a rogue comet and crashlands on a desolate planet. Only a handful of passengers and one crewmember, Fry (Mitchell), survive, and they find that they must put their faith in Riddick (Diesel), a violent, murderous criminal who was being transported on the ship if they are to have any hope to survive. However, they soon discover that Riddick isn't the most dangerous creature on the planet--caverns under the surface are teeming with deadly, flesh-eating beats. The upside is that these beats are extremely sensitive to light, and the planet has three suns. The downside is that the planet is about to be plunged into a total eclipse that may last for years.

"Pitch Black" is an excellent horror flick of the kind where a small group of people must survive the night against an onslaught of mysterious monsters. It sticks pretty close to the genre conventions, but it uses them to their full effectiveness, never allowing them to become an excuse for lazy storytelling or sloppy filmmaking. It's also one of those movies that shows that excellent filmmaking and judiciously used CGI can indeed happen in the context of a small budget.

The acting is great all around, the story has enough twists and turns to keep the audience guessing, and there isn't a single example of "stupid character syndrome" (where characters do something dumb just because the plot dictates it) anywhere in the film. The deaths at the hands of the monsters come so suddenly that they never lose their impact, and the very last one is perhaps the most startling of all.

I imagine there are some who will fault this movie for having a "Hollywood Ending"--like the person I watched it with did--but I think that's ignoring the way some of the character deaths were handled, as well as the character of Riddick. (Or maybe they might forget to consider the way characters like Riddick have been handled in recent horror, suspense and action flicks. It's been a while since a movie has actually allowed a character like Riddick to truly transform as the story progresses.)