Starring Brittny Lane Stewart, Ion Bechet, Nelu Dinu, Andrei Dumitrescu
Directed by Jeff Burr
If you’ve read any other reviews of Jeff Burr’s Straight Into Darkness you’ve probably heard all kinds of high falootin’ comparisons to Terence Malick’s Thin Red Line. This association is going to tank this flick if it sticks, since frankly, apart from some superficial visual similarities, and main characters somewhat reminiscent of each other, the two films couldn’t be more different.
I went in to Straight Into Darkness expecting an arty anti-war film from the oft called “sequel king”, and Texas Chainsaw 3 auteur Jeff Burr. I mean, how tantalizing is the prospect of the guy who made not one, but TWO Puppet Master sequels showing the world that he’s been sitting on a Malick sized talent even whilst directing Stepfather 2?
I wanted to love this movie, and I did end up liking it a lot, just not for any of the reasons that the hype behind the film led me to believe. If someone had told me to strap myself in for a strange hybrid war/siege film that crossed Assault on Precinct 13 with a Romper Room version of Freaks, then I would have been properly prepared to enjoy Burr’s vision. Instead of reveling in its horror movie influences, which include Lucio Fulci, Edgar Allan Poe, and Eyes Without a Face, Straight Into Darkness seems to want to pretend that it’s an art film.
The story is relatively simple: Two American soldiers with opposing personalities go AWOL along the German border. It’s unclear what their “major malfunction” is, but it has something to do with a flamethrower and a little girl. They’re picked up by the military police and are on their way to get court marshaled when, lucky them, their jeep rolls over a minefield and goes boom. Being the only survivors, and newly freed, they decide to hightail it through enemy territory. On their way they happen upon a cannibalistic priest and a creepy “hanging” garden. Padre decides to pull a Father Thomas from City of the Dead and suicidally joins the rest of the strange fruit. Guess eating your alter boys makes for a guilty conscience. Continuing along, our boys come across a pretty nifty concrete fortress in the middle of nowhere. They decide to hole up for a few days, during which time Straight Into Darkness goes straight into fuckeduppedness.
Turns out they’re not the only two roaming around in the Nazi hinterland. There’s also a ragtag group of disabled orphans who’ve been holding their own against the Krauts ever since the husband and wife orphanage owners taught the little freaks how to load and fire an MP40.
That’s right, you’ve got one of those legless torso with arms kids walking around on his hands and firing a freaking machine gun! I know I sound insensitive here, this is a real kid after all, but am I seriously being led to believe that this is not an exploitation film? I suppose I should get all weepy for the plight of child soldiers when I see this little guy mowing down Nazis like Indiana Jones on a rollerskate?
Hell no! This is where the movie misses the mark for me. It’s lacking the artistic message it wants to convey but is unwilling to recognize and embrace the absurdity of its premise and just go with it. I think showing half a kid on a rollerskate blowing up a tank should evoke a sense of elation, but instead we’re meant to dwell on the little guy’s death and get all teary-eyed and nihilistic. I just don’t think the audience was buying it. You can’t make a war is hell movie about child soldiers and then make those soldiers heroes for killing. The tragedy of child soldiers is that they’re forced to fight and die and grow up before their time. Straight Into Darkness posits child soldiers who are led to believe fighting is a game, which saps the meaning from their actions.
That said, even though I think the film is fundamentally flawed, there are quite a few things to recommend it. First and foremost, it just looks excellent. In certain visual instances, the Malick comparison does hold water. The glade with the hanging corpses is particularly haunting and memorable. All of the acting is passable, though we’re really not given enough time to care about most of the characters. While not a horror film in any typical sense, Straight Into Darkness is definitely informed by the sensibilities of a director who’s been working in the genre for nearly 20 years. Jeff Burr may have been trying to give the world another anti-war opus, but I think he may have shown what he’s capable of, if he’d just stick to horror movies instead.
2 1/2 out of 5
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