Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Sentinels of Darkness – review


Director: Manos Kalaitzakis

Release date: 2002

Contains spoilers

I sat down to watch this movie and, as it came to an end, I was utterly bemused. I had made copious notes for this review but, in fairness, they made little sense as I was left wondering what the heck I had just seen. I had to pick myself up from the metaphoric floor, shake the confusion from my head and try to work the movie out so I could write this.

In essence this is a portmanteau film… ish… I should say that it has pretensions towards portmanteau but the story elements do not fit into the establish model and the portmanteau element actually becomes the third episode and yet somehow remains a portmanteau surrounding that as well. The film itself starts with words printed upon the screen, which I wish to relay in full:

“This is the moment between memory and oblivion... where day fades swiftly and silently into night... where evil wears a cloak of blackness as it stalks the living, hunting the virtuous, preying upon the weak. Creatures of a higher order have always lurked amongst the shadows, draining humanity emotionally and physically. Reborn from Hell's ashes, these beings inhabit a world of their own... where time is of no importance... where mortality no longer applies... where death is merely the beginning...”

Michalis Iatropolous as AdkaSound pretentious? Well it is, and then again it isn’t, rather it is dripping in an affected melodrama and this infects much of the dialogue and performances. The first portmanteau element sees Paige (Vicky Harris) with Adka (Michalis Iatropolous). He is reading a book that is the only proof that vampire high priestess and tyrant Velislava (Eileen Daly) existed. The first story is of her demise.

Velislava and DraganWe see her and another vampire named Dragan (Peter Godwin) together. They wear uniforms that could almost be SS like, but this is actually some sort of vampire regime. They are getting it on. A young woman, Rogue (Sandra Darnal), comes along and we see flashes that indicate she was once with Dragan. She has a grenade and destroys a statue of Velislava.

Sandra Darnal as the rogueAfter we see what appears to be a failed firing squad shooting at Rogue she is captured and placed before a trial, chaired by Velislava and including Dragan and an unnamed third. It becomes clear that Dragan turned Rogue but she cannot handle immortality and wants to die. She is sentenced to death by crucifixion and I will get to how vampires die later.

Of course, Dragan has feelings for the youngster and this will lead to the betrayal of Velislava. One thing that was clear by this point is that the film has a stagey feel. Sets are sparse, probably due to budget, and in fairness Kalaitzakis makes the most of the little he has in a way that works (for the most). However the staginess infects the dialogue also, making it fluctuate between ridiculously pompous and thickly melodramatic. Of course Daly chews up this dialogue like a pro but one cannot help feeling that we are drifting towards pantomime.

Vicky Harris as PaigeThe next portmanteau element sees Paige and Adka with Jessica (Charly Barber). They watch a video (You Only Die Twice – a fangfilms production) and we see a montage of cheesy images from the film. Adka states that the interesting thing is that the star, The Duke (Nikos Tsachiridis), actually did die twice.

Dani Biernat as NemesisThe second episode follows a vampire hunter (Natalie Jones) as she hunts down the Duke and kills him – with bullets it seems. This is stylised almost to the point of anime and I really don’t know if that worked at all. She is successful, but things go awry when the Duke’s offspring, the indestructible Nemesis (Dani Biernat), attacks and stabs her. Not to kill her but to get her blood on a blade, this is used to resurrect the Duke.

Nikos Tsachiridis as The DukeThe hunter then finds herself led into a trap (but not before a gratuitous lesbian scene with a couple of hookers) where Nemesis is to kill her for the Duke’s pleasure. Of course, given the introduction, we know that he is going to die by the end and the segment feels contrived and pointless.

FeedingThe next portmanteau sees Paige and Jessica talking and deciding to go to a club, the Coven, and this segues into the third episode, which is their story. The club itself really doesn’t work as a set, it mixes in what seems like stock footage of a busy nightclub with scenes involving the actors that look empty and devoid of life. In the club they meet the owner Ian (Ian Robertson) and his friend Jordan (Duncan Skinner).

magic bookThe whole thing is a hunt, but not a complex one, which sees the two men (who are vampires) turning the women. Paige is presented with Adka, who it appears is a vampire hunter, as part of her turning ritual – he is her first meal. Paige and Jessica want their revenge and have the advantage of having Velislava’s book, which just happens to be magic.

a film within a filmThe final portmanteau sees the two girls hunting in a cinema and we are treated to a fake trailer for “Dungeons of the Demonic Doctors” and then part of the fake film “Satan’s Sluts”. In the final film we see a vampire with fangs – the only fangs you’ll see in the movie.

how does crucifixion kill a vampire?You see the lore is somewhat screwed up here. There are no fangs, but I can live with that, and vampires can go out in daylight if they wear shades. What becomes most confusing is working out how they can die. The Duke dies by being shot but Rogue seemed impervious to bullets. Crucifixion works, but I don’t see how, although beheading is generally effective.

The performances are all very hammy, pantomime verging on poor and yet somehow captivating. The film looks like a low/no budget piece at times and yet at other times the director manages to hide these gaps. It is the leaping between styles and the fact that there seems no real point to many of the segments that harms the film and we are presented with fascinating snippets that go nowhere.

You finish watching the movie with a great big question mark over your head. In some ways this is good, you are so confused that the film, which is short in length at 73 minutes, never becomes boring because you are too busy trying to figure out what the Hell is going on to get bored. To a degree the structure reminded me of the film Angel of the Night, though this film dripped with a melodrama (in places) that the earlier film just couldn’t touch.

Not great cinema but absorbing, even if it is for the wrong reasons. 3 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

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