Reviewed by The Foywonder
Starring Barbara Streifel Sanders, Joseph Dunn, Ian Malcolm, Michael Caruso, Caroline Rich
Directed by Robert David Sanders
Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the building
Underground creatures were stirring, soon to be killing
The tenants were terrified with nowhere to hide
In hopes of living long enough to make it outside
The occupants of a California apartment complex are doing their various things on Christmas Eve while news reports talk of unexplained happenings: unusual rolling blackouts, strange gases bellowing from the ground in another town, mysterious structural damage to various buildings and overpasses. A married with children couple, an engaged couple, a divorcing couple, Christmas partygoers, the building handyman, and an agoraphobic techno-whiz are either too preoccupied with the holiday or their personal foibles to either notice or put much stock in these alarming news briefs. That is until the subterranean monsters with electromagnetic properties that cause the lights to go out emerge from a crater in the basement and giant rock structures erupt from the ground outside the building blocking what appears to be the only way out.
It would be easy to say that The Blackout is Alien meets The Mist with a Christmas twist. So easy I just did, in fact. Nothing more than just 75-minutes of ordinary people frequently bickering as they find themselves trapped inside their apartment complex with rampaging monsters after them on Christmas Eve. Nothing wrong with that level of simplicity. Nothing wrong that is unless the characters and what comes out of their mouths proves flat and the pacing keeps fluctuating between rollicking and lethargic.
Most of these people are virtually indistinguishable dullards to begin with; don’t even ask me to tell you which husband or boyfriend was which. The actors compound the problem by delivering their stock dialogue with a degree of dryness that manages to make them even less interesting. Only the agoraphobic geek and the young girl stand out from the pack, and in the girl’s case it’s only because she’s the only non-adult in the mix.
A top notch score opens and closes the film exuding a level of ominousness The Blackout rarely ever achieves. A slow start, a fast finish, and plenty of starts and stops along the way; for every sequence like the climactic elevator shaft escape that grabs your attention there are too many scenes of characters gingerly wandering hallways or just standing around almost as if they are waiting for the monsters to come get them.
Like any good b-movie some questions go unanswered. Why didn’t anyone ever attempt to escape out of a window? What kind of parents sends a small child down into a dank basement all by himself to fetch a Christmas present? Who goes to a Christmas party holstering handguns with mounted flashlights?
What The Blackout does have in its favor is some of the coolest monsters to appear in a low budget b-movie in quite some time. Nothing ground-breaking about these creatures from inner earth but I cannot stress to you how impressed I was with not only the ghastly look of these quilled humanoid-insectioid monstroids but also the means by which they were brought to life – a nice mix of practical suitmation with a little computer animation used to bring to life their snapping, whipping scorpion-ish pincher tails. Believe me; they make wicked use of those tails.
When the monsters aren’t on the screen my interest waned. I wish I could say I enjoyed it more than I did because I really dug those monsters. Even the premise, while familiar, is perfectly fine. Although admirably ambitious for what was obviously a very low budget creature feature, I do believe another rewrite or two and a more charismatic cast were the ills that prevented The Blackout from shining brighter than it did.
Ah, heck, it’s the Christmas season. I’ll be generous.
2 1/2 out of 5
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