Saturday, April 21, 2007

Midnight Mass – review

Directed by: Tony Mandile

Release date: 2003

Contains spoilers

This movie was based on a novella of the same name by F. Paul Wilson (who has a cameo in the film) and I believe that novella has been expanded to full novel, however I have read neither. As such I went into the movie cold, but did I leave cold? Frankly, yes, but it is a shame as the film had a lot going for it.

The film owes a lot to I am Legend in premise if not content and begins with news reports from around the world of a virus that has emerged. Eventually, as the world
is over-run by the undead, we see the last broadcast which claims that the virus story was a Government cover-up and gives us our vampire slaying and protection rules. Sunlight and a stake through the heart will kill them, crosses repel them.

It is an interesting opening but it isn’t unique and we only have to look at the remake of Dawn of the Dead, which came out the following year, to see it be done with much more panache. The difference I feel came in the fact that Dawn showed us footage, blurry yes, but in this we primarily see newscasters – playing Johnny Cash over the top was also a stroke of genius by the Dawn crew.

We see a girl, Gwen (Pamela Carp), on a boardwalk. We also see a car full of Goths, obviously not vampires as it is daytime. These are the Vichy, collaborators with the vampires, hoping to get a little slice of immortality. They look to take Gwen when they realise that there is another girl nearby. As they capture the other, Gwen maces one and escapes.

We then see Gwen on her bike, at night. She rides to a church, which has been de-sanctified and has had the crosses removed, and sees vampire ex-priest Palmeri (Marvin W Schwartz) sacrifice the captured girl.

Here we have an issue. The world is overrun by vampires who come out at night and yet we see Gwen, and others, wandering the night. No. They’d be holed up somewhere. Gwen is attacked, and manages to kill her attacker, but it is only one. This is where the issue finds its source, we seem to have a very sparse and spread out plague. The film does try to answer this, as we’ll see, but the answer didn’t hold much water.

Long story short, Gwen (who is an atheist), goes to find her friend Joe (Douglas Gibson) a priest who used to run the parish before being falsely accused of child abuse. After some angst she gets him to return and he reclaims the church.

We get some interesting other snippets of vampire lore as we go along. It seems the vampire population exploded too quickly and Dracula has Risen From the Grave.
many are weak through lack of food – this is meant to explain the lack of vampires on the streets but you’d think they would be out trying to find any morsel they could. We see Palmeri look into the church – with crosses replaced - and it causes him to bleed from the eyes, which was nice - if slightly derivative of

We also get a moment with a mass, when Joe has transubstantiated the wine. A Vichy turned vampire drinks it and it dissolves him from the inside out. We often get the effect of holy water but rarely (in fact I can’t think of one other example) of the wine turned into the blood of Christ.

Of course, with all the Christian goings on Gwen is out of sorts. She clings to atheism although she wears a cross. This should be a great exploration but is let down partially by scripting and more so by acting.
The acting was weak (don’t get me wrong I have seen a lot worse) and the characters were often very stereotyped – worst offender was the Irish parishioner so happy that Father Joe is back. It did seem to me like the film makers wanted to make both a social commentary and a theological one, yet they missed the mark on both counts.

The ending of the film was odd in that we got a win by one side, then the other, then the other. I felt the story flipping side to side like a mad pendulum and it was all in a relatively short section of the running time.

The special effects are sometimes quite good for the budget but, at other times, they look awful. Mandile does his best to not show the joins by actually not showing us certain scenes (as an example we see Joe swinging a sledgehammer at a prone vampire but not the impact) but at times it is unavoidable and the weaker effects do detract. I also dislike it when a film mixes its vampire types for no reason. Palmeri is simply fanged, but the other vampires are more demonic in visage with mouths brimming with misshapen tusks – make your mind up or at least explain why the difference. That said, the effects issues were the least of my complaints.

The greatest was that I never felt as though I was in the world they described. There were not enough vampires walking the streets, the humans wandered around with seeming impunity. I just didn’t buy it.

I wanted to like this and the basic premise is great. It needs a tighter script, a stronger cast, better effects and many more vampires. 3 out of 10 for a damn good idea that could be taken and vastly improved upon.

The imdb page is here.


Unknown said...

I just watched this movie, after reading the short story years ago in the Mammoth Book of Vampires. The big departure from the story is that in there the priest doesn't team up with a girl but with a rabbi. It might have worked better here too.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Hey Alex, thanks for the comment and info. Perhaps it would have worked better, indeed.