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Underworld: Awakening: Flashy Vampires and Werewolves
The fourth film in the Underworld series, Awakening starts off with the vampire and lycan communities being exposed and the humans declaring an all-out war against them. During the purge, vampire Selene (Beckinsale) and hybrid Michael are taken captive and cryogenically frozen. Selene awakens twelve years later in a lab to discover that the humans have won and the remaining vampires and lycans have been driven deep into hiding. While searching for any evidence of Michael’s fate, she runs into the young girl who freed her from the lab, her hybrid daughter, who is being tracked by people desperate to get her back.
Beckinsale doesn’t seem very interested in being in the film. She’s ok when she’s fighting, mainly because the camera’s moving too quickly for you to keep tabs on her, but when the action settles down into an emotional moment, she seems bored at best. Her character barely seems fazed by her lost twelve years or by the fact that she now has a daughter. She has a going-through-the-motions vibe going on, which is completely at odds with the heightened stakes she’s up against. That being said, the sheer amount of bodies she leaves strewn in her wake is highly gratifying, as is the image of her brandishing her twin guns while defying gravity.
The film is flashy but confusing, and this confusion doesn’t stem from a lack of prior knowledge of the series, but by shoddy storytelling and lazy acting. The direction doesn’t get a free pass either. The rapid, choppy fight scenes look impressive but are nonetheless infuriating, especially when they make the logistics of the more important killings vaguer than they already are.
On the plus side, though, the stunts have a sort of balletic quality to them. When Selene jumps off of buildings or over fences, she could almost be mistaken for a dancer if not for her bright blue irises and icy expression. Also, the lycans look like a feral version of Xmen’s Beast and while they aren’t particularly scary, the scenes where they transform from humans to werewolves are pretty cool.
The most irritating thing is how the human versus vampire/lycan war was almost completely ignored. It was used almost solely as a set up for Selene to be captured, completely sidestepping a perfect opportunity to forge a connection between the film universe and the real world. This ethnic cleansing war should have, at the very least, struck a political and emotional chord with the audience. And while a twist in the middle of the film does bring the story back around to how the vampires and lycans dealt with the war, it’s overshadowed by the onscreen bloodbath.
If you’re a fan of the previous Underworld film, this one is more of the same and may be worth a watch.
There are few actors that commit to their roles as much as Benecio Del Toro, no matter how small; the Puerto Rican actor is approaching his fiftieth birthday, but only seem to be getting better with age, as he demonstrates quite spectacularly at times as one of the most infamous drug-lords of the past century in Escobar: Paradise Lost.
While the title would suggest this is a film documenting the remarkable life of Escobar, it’s not; in fact, he’s almost plays an antagonist in the film – and that’s the movie’s biggest problem. While it never pretends to be an Escobar biography, Del Toro is simply more interesting than the main narrative, which switches from romance, to thriller, to gun-toting action in its 120 minute running time.
Hunger Games’ Josh Hutcherson is technically the lead and the young actor takes on the role of a Canadian thrust into Escobar’s world after he falls for the Colombian kingpin’s niece, played by little-known actress, Claudia Traisac.
While Hutcherson occasionally injects the character of Nick with the right kind of youthful naivety, he cowers in the presence of Del Toro’s portrayal of Escobar, relegating the character to nothing more than a bit-part player – both in Escobar’s world of crime and in the context of the film. It disrupts the flow of the film somewhat; while Hutcherson and Traisac’s on-screen romance takes centre-stage in the first third of the film, by the time Escobar is injected into proceedings, Del Toro’s sheer magnetism leaves little room for you to maintain interest, let alone root for, Hutcherson’s character.
As the directorial debut of Andrea Di Stefano, this is a solid piece of work from the Italian director – but at the same time, there’s a lingering sense that suggests that this project could have been so much more if the eponymous character was also the main one – such is Del Toro’s charisma and Escobar’s endlessly remarkable life story.
Shot entirely in Panama, everything looks as it should be and it further contributes to the aesthetic domain of Escobar, where Nick, rightly, stands out like a sore thumb. But by the end of the film, one can’t help but wonder what Di Stefano and Del Toro could have achieved with an adjusted script.
Ah, horror sequels – what can you say about them that haven’t been said before? We’re at a point now where not even the most ardent and committed of horror fans can argue the notion that sequels in this particular genre of filmmaking are largely motivated by the prospect of a huge cash-in at the box office. It’s understandable; filmmakers need to make films that make money so that they can make more films.
There are occasions, however, where that motivation is all too obvious and Sinister 2 suffers exactly that. Following on from the relatively unnerving original starring Ethan Hawke, to call this a sequel would be giving the script far too much credit; there are no new ideas or even any kind of continuation with the story of the film’s antagonist, Bughuul.
In the first film, we’re told that Bughuul possesses a child, who then goes on to murder his or her family. The house in which the murder takes place is then essentially haunted, driving the next tenants – who discover videos of the previous murders – away, but back into the arms of Bughuul, where they are murdered by, again, one of the children – and so on and so forth. There are various small details in between the cracks of this vicious cycle – violent dreams, creepy twins, a clan of ghost-kids – but the problem with Sinister 2 is that it revisits all of these elements and expects you to be okay with that. It’s not okay; in fact, it’s terrible. This ‘sequel’ essentially retreads the same skeleton of the plot and, because of a typically rosy ending, is far inferior in terms suspense and expectation – it’s the same but nowhere near as good, is what this review title could have read.
The only glimmer of light to come through the film is the performance of James Ransone, who reprises what was peripheral role in the original as the nameless deputy. There’s a real sense of the character – credited as Deputy So & So – being a kind-hearted, lone-wolf gun-slinger who wants to do good and is often misunderstood because of it. He’s worn-out, he’s tired and he’s always on the move. Aesthetically, the film hits the right notes – but, again, there are no surprises; the family lives in an old, creaky farmhouse, for example.
If ever there was a perfect example of the misguided nature of the film sequel, Sinister 2 is it. You can commend a sequel for trying to build on and expand the original, but this film seems to have regressed.