PICKIN’ THE CARCASS: DARK FLOORS (2008)
By Michael Arruda
After a brief hiatus, my column PICKIN’ THE CARCASS is back.
On the menu this week, it’s DARK FLOORS (2008), a Finnish film starring the heavy metal band Lordi as gruesome monsters that wreak havoc inside a mysterious hospital.
DARK FLOORS is a movie in serious need of some answers. It’s got a creepy plot, decent acting, stylish directing, and okay writing, but when it comes to providing answers for all that is going on inside its dark universe, it falls smack-dab on the floor.
Ben (Noah Huntley) has taken his young autistic daughter Sarah (Skye Bennett) to a hospital for tests, and when he and Sarah get on an elevator with Sarah’s nurse Emily (Dominique McElligott), a security guard Rick (Leon Herbert), an old man named Tobias (Ronald Pickup) and another man named Jon (William Hope), the elevator loses power.
When this group manages to get off the elevator, they discover an empty hospital. Seemingly, they’re the only ones left in the building. How did this happen? Ah, the first of many unanswered questions!
Thing quickly get weirder, as they discover some dead bodies, including a woman with her eyes gouged out. So, they’re not alone after all! Then, there are some strange noises coming from different floors, and the final proof that they’re not alone: they’re attacked by a group of monsters that look like they walked off the set of the LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing)!
As they search the hospital for a way out, Jon, the jerk of the group, expresses his belief that the monsters want Sarah, and if they just give them the girl all will be better. Of course, this opinion doesn’t sit too well with the others, especially with Sarah’s father, Ben.
The group also notices that the clocks have stopped, and they surmise that time itself has stopped. Stranger still, they realize later that the noises they’ve heard on different floors-—voices and footsteps—have been none other than themselves (!) on those floors earlier in the evening, as if they’re stuck in recurring parallel universes. Wow.
What is really going on here? The members in the group don’t really get a chance to find out, because they’re too busy trying to escape from the monsters which are hell-bent on killing them, and so the movie moves away from its science fiction overtures and becomes a melodramatic struggle for survival, as the group fights to elude the demonic monsters, while trying to find a way out of the hospital.
A lot is going on in DARK FLOORS. Director Pete Riski certainly keeps things interesting. In terms of pacing, for the most part DARK FLOORS is a quick ride. It gets out of the gate fast with bizarre events happening within the first few minutes. However, later in the movie, things slow down, as there are various scenes where characters slowly roam dark corridors in search of escape routes, and I found myself wishing the gruesome monsters would show up.
Speaking of these monsters, they’re pretty scary-looking. The make-up job is decent, and I was grateful that these creatures were actually people in make-up rather than CGI creations. The sound effects used for them are also very effective, as they make lots of frightening roars and growls.
Overall, the acting was pretty good in this one, as well. While no one stood out, everyone did a competent job. Noah Huntley in the lead role as Ben was sufficiently good-looking and heroic, while Dominque McElligott as the leading lady, Emily, was sufficiently good-looking and both heroic and vulnerable, strong enough to handle herself at times, but still in need of help from the male hero.
William Hope as Jon made a good jerk, and I found myself throughout this film thinking Hope looked very familiar. While he appeared recently in SHERLOCK HOLMES (2009) with Robert Downey Jr., the movie from which I remember Hope is much older: ALIENS (1986), where he played Lt. William Gorman, the green military leader who led the troops into battle against the Aliens in James Cameron’s big-budget ALIEN sequel.
The rest of the cast was OK, and Skye Bennett as young Sarah did a good job, too. Although, to nitpick, her performance didn’t convince me her character was autistic.
Pekka Lehtosaari wrote the screenplay based on an original idea by both director Pete Riski and the heavy metal band Lordi. So, an entire band had this story idea? After seeing this movie, I can tell you right now the original idea was something like “We want to play monsters in a movie.” That’s probably about as detailed as it got!
Still, for two-thirds of this movie, the screenplay by Lehtosaari was my favorite part. I was really enjoying the story. I liked the concept of a father and autistic daughter as main characters, and I liked the premise of a small group of survivors alone in a hospital seeking both answers and a way out. I liked the threat of the demonic monsters; they were scary. I liked the science fiction aspects of this film, when the group begins to speculate that time has stopped and that they’re in some kind of alternate universe.
But then the final act drops the ball, because it doesn’t provide the necessary answers to the plethora of questions it generates.
For example, how does this happen in the first place? In other words, just what the hell is really going on? How is it that everyone disappears in an instant from this hospital? What are those monsters? Are they demons? Are they from hell? From another world? Where?
Is Sarah really connected to all this? It appears so, but if this is the case, and the movie strongly makes this case, then how is she connected? And why?
Are they really trapped in an alternate universe? Has time really stopped for them? Perhaps they’re all dead. Maybe that’s the answer. It’s a possibility, but so is the ludicrous idea that Sarah simply dreamt it all.
Then there’s the ending, which is extremely vague. I have a general idea of what I believe the ending means, but again, it’s not clearly explained.
These questions are not the problem. They’re a lot of fun. It’s the lack of answers that’s a drag.
Now, a movie doesn’t have to explain everything to be good. Take CLOVERFIELD (2008) for example. That movie never explains the complete truth about its monster, and it doesn’t suffer for it. In fact, it makes it more interesting. But CLOVERFIELD was able to do this because it was such a strong movie, a powerfully frightening plot with a kick-ass scary style. The audience was having too much fun being scared to care all that much about the origins of the giant monster stomping New York City.
DARK FLOORS is more cerebral. It generates a lot of mystery with its thrills and chills. As such, like any good mystery, it only succeeds if its mysterious questions are satisfactorily answered. And that’s the main problem with DARK FLOORS. It doesn’t answer the thought-provoking questions it generates with any degree of satisfaction.
Still, I enjoyed watching DARK FLOORS. Its story drew me in from the start, and it held my attention throughout most of the movie, up until its ambiguous final act. It had likeable characters who I cared for, and frightening monsters that could easily generate a nightmare or two. But because it didn’t answer its own questions, it didn’t really rise to the next level.
As a result, DARK FLOORS is only a mediocre excursion into darkness, held back by its inability to see through that darkness with the needed creativity and insight.
© Copyright 2010 by Michael Arruda