Reviewed by MattFini
Starring Wes Bentley, Sofya Skya, Michael Madsen, Eric Roberts
Directed by Michael Staininger
Distributed by Lightning Entertainment
After the debacle of Road Kill (review here), I turned my attention toward another one of Fangoria’s ‘FirghtFest’ movies, hoping I had started at the bottom and would gradually work my way toward something substantial. This one comes equipped with decent production values and a potentially entertaining cast, although it takes more than that to breathe life into this sluggishly paced Gothic drama.
The Tomb is actually a loose adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe’s Ligeia (which is also the film’s onscreen, more fitting, title) – although you wouldn’t know it save for the obligatory opening reminder credit. It finds Wes Bentley as a charisma-challenged literary professor who becomes infatuated with an ailing grad student obsessed with defeating her own terminal disease. For those unfamiliar with Poe’s story, the outcome isn’t dissimilar, although the expansion of the ultimate idea leaves a lot to be desired.
If there’s anything notable about The Tomb, it’s how clumsily it has been constructed. It’s unclear whether or not writer John Shirley’s script was always this slapdash, or if gigantic chunks of plot and character were haphazardly removed during editing. For example, Bentley’s character goes from curiously aroused by Ligeia to her full-blown lover in three scenes, while his turgid relationship with his fiancée is discarded mostly off camera. Obviously the intention here is to emphasize the mythic allure of our supernatural femme fatale (especially once we find out that Bentley’s enthusiasm for her is the result of a love spell), but dialogue is hopelessly clunky and the needed chemistry between Bentley and Sofya Skya is completely non-existent.
This is a movie in which not much happens in the way of horror, and once Bentley becomes Ligeia’s plaything, there’s lots of longing looks, uninspired love scenes and pointlessly padded moments. Director Michael Staininger doesn’t pile on the exploitation, either, staging sex scenes without edge or steam. Violence is muted and stale, thusly removing the last possible reason to recommend wading through this mess.
So how does The Tomb fare as a straight up character drama? Just as poorly, I’m afraid. Any chance of investing in these characters has been obliterated by the jagged editing which sees the story jumping from one scene to another without any rhyme or reason. In one scene Bentley intends to follow his friend, who seizured with blood leaking from his eyes, to the hospital only instead to wind up naked in Ligeia’s shower. This thing was never going to appeal to mass audiences, and while cutting it down to 85 minutes seems like an act of mercy for inevitably bored viewers, the jarring pace doesn’t do it any favors, either. Staininger deserves some credit for the attempted Gothic ambiance – through washed out, dreary flashbacks and a nifty Romanian castle setting – but it hardly matters in a film that’s always undermined by bargain-basement CGI and a consistent lack of scares.
Poe’s short story has been widely debated over the years as an intentional parody of the literary Gothic horror genre, and the filmmakers behind this retelling might’ve been wise to infuse their film with some good natured humor – it might’ve helped with the dreary and straight-faced proceedings. On one hand, it’s respectable the these guys were trying to make a serious Goth horror flick but, on the other, it’s hard to take something seriously when the villainess straps an advanced-looking doctor’s mask over a corpse’s mouth in order to extract its soul and store it inside a glass vial.
Almost all of the actors involved sleepwalk through their roles, the sole exception being actress Sofya Skya. As Ligeia, she handles the sultry and devious aspects of her character amicably, creating a villain that is fairly easy to hate while hard to resist. It’s a shame that her efforts go wasted on something so worthless, but one hopes she finds more (and better) genre work down the pike. As mentioned, Bentley is a long way from American Beauty (hell, he’s a long way from P2 – at least he had some fun there), wandering the film in a daze even before his character succumbs to one. Michael Madsen and Eric Roberts add some ‘marquee value’ (but do they really?) even though their parts should’ve been axed altogether.
There’s really nothing redeemable about The Tomb, and I’m beginning to call into question the quality of Fangoria’s FrightFest altogether. A good friend of mine jokingly referred to these things as 8 Films After Dark Wouldn’t Touch and, after suffering through two colossal duds, I’m starting to think he’s right. Flat acting, horrendous writing, incomprehensible editing and edgeless direction all contribute to this failed adaptation. Stay home on a dark and stormy night, light some candles and curl up with Poe’s story instead. The end result will be much more fun.
1 out of 5