Absence of Light (UK DVD)
Reviewed by Gareth Jones
Directed by Patrick Desmond
Starring Richard Conant, Eric Thornsberry, Tom Savini, David Hess, Caroline Munro
Distributed by MVM
It’s become more of a sad fact in recent years, notable exceptions aside, that the inclusion of a large number of legendary genre actors in an independent film is generally a sign that it sucks. Bad. The latest piece of barely sufferable cinema in this ilk to hit UK shores is Patrick Desmond’s Absence of Light.
Slopping out a story so convoluted you’ll be hard pushed to grasp exactly what any of it has to do with anything whatsoever, it’s a stagnantly paced and mind-numbing prime example of filmmakers attempting to far overreach their ability. Let me try to break it down for you:
As the film opens, we are told of two warring organisations – Division 8 and The Plague. Both appear to be huge conglomerates judging by external shots of their supposed head offices, with The Plague especially presented along the lines of a villainous comic book corporation – despite the fact that neither of them appear to have business facilities outside of one poorly lit room or a large country house. In the opening moments, we witness the hideously drawn out assassination of the girlfriend of Division 8 agent Sultan, ordered by a slightly disinterested David Hess (playing The Plague’s leader, Whiplash) as he shouts down a mobile phone in an empty parking lot. Rather than get right down to business, the sports bike-riding hitmen pull off a few front wheelies before making their move, after which another one of them, for no specific reason at all, drives down the road standing upright, with no hands, like Van Damme in Hard Target, albeit with far less finesse. Absence of Light, at this point, appears completely convinced that what it’s just shown you has been the slam-bang motorbike assassination scene that you’ve been waiting your whole life for. In reality, you’ll be hovering over the stop button and contemplating just what other uses you could put this disc to that would ensure nobody else ever had the indignity of seeing it again.
Now, we head into the actual plot (well, the main part of it anyway) where the head of Division 8, The Higher Power (Tom Savini), teams up the bereaved agent Sultan with the tubby agent Puritan. Are these character names starting to give you an idea of just how “deep” this film thinks it is? Well, it gets worse...
See, the latest assignment for this unlikely duo is to track down a career-damaging sex tape of Senator Criswell, a pervy politican who just can’t seem to keep it in his pants but fully hopes to be re-elected next term. So off they go. Thrown into the mix is some custom software, “Devour”, which can apparently track every piece of communication that occurs worldwide, and tell you everything about everybody via the wonders of Microsoft Powerpoint. Both companies fight over control of the software, and Division 8 successfully use it to track down the owner of the sex tape, and the woman with whom Criswell dropped his drawers. In response, Whiplash – via the ever-effective management method of standing almost perfectly stationary over a clerk in his office – orders further political strikes again the senator and Division 8. Meanwhile, through his regular meetings with The Seer (Michael Berryman), Division 8’s apparently psychic intelligence operative, Puritan finds himself struggling to come to terms with the woman he had to abandon in order to follow the dangerous path of a career in Division 8. This leads to an almost unbearable amount of pop-philosophical voiceover drawling, and one of the single funniest nightmares you’ll ever witness on screen. See the attached image for an idea of the insanity. I’m sure it’s intended as some kind of incredibly mind-blowing metaphor, and is almost worth seeing the film for. I did say almost, though... so, don’t.
Anyway, where were we... oh yeah! Now, Puritan reveals that he’s been in touch with a scientist over at The Plague – a guy called The Architect (Tony Todd) – who has used Devour to combine the DNA of every single creature on the planet into something he calls “The Philosopher’s Stone” (honestly, I’m not making this shit up). With this, The Plague is running “Project Prometheus”, with the goal of creating an army of superhuman creatures that they can use to either rule the world, or simply scupper Criswell’s election. I had no fucking idea at this point. Of course, said creatures are released in a warehouse for the final showdown with Division 8 – realised with all the CGI finesse of the intro to a mid 90s PSX videogame. Again, see the attached images for an idea; but in reality it’s seeing them move that will really set you off, as they cartwheel, roundhouse kick and back flip in a manner that, yet again, throws out a vibe that Absence of Light truly believes this is the coolest shit that any audience has ever seen. Ever.
What you just read merely gives you an outline of the plot of this movie and, truthfully, may not even be 100% accurate now that I think about it. I’m not kidding when I say that there are far more characters that I haven’t mentioned (such as Fetish and Jezebel, and nope -- unfortunately neither of them get down to any of that business), and a good number of further random plot strands that really never gel or go anywhere. In fact, in the end, I could barely even tell exactly why The Plague had been defeated as Senator Creswell was re-elected. The level of ambition can’t be denied, though, with Desmond’s intentions obviously being an exploration of the lengths that conniving politicians will go to in order to secure power, but the whole thing is just so slapdash and overwrought that it all comes crashing down amidst your own stupefied struggles to ascertain what is going on, why it’s going on, and who exactly is supposed to be involved in what way with what is going on.
The cast don’t help matter much either, delivering everything with a deadpan tone of utter seriousness that the entire affair becomes monotone white noise. Every time a tubby mulleted hitman opens his mouth, your brain comes one step closer to actually shutting off in order to effect a mercy killing. This effect is only periodically broken by David Hess shouting during what I can only assume were his real life lunch breaks.
Aside from the aforementioned nightmare scene, the bafflingly horrible CGI creatures and a TomyTronic 3D being used as an X-ray device (oh, did I forget to mention that Division 8 has their very own Q?), it’s not even so-bad-it’s-good. If you absolutely must subject yourself to the hilarity that is the warehouse showdown, for your own sanity please make sure that’s the only part you stick to. You can thank me later.
After the ordeal that is the main feature has ended, should you be masochistic enough to want to keep the disc in your player and have a look at the extras, you’ll actually find an unexpectedly wide selection. First is a “Behind the Scenes” offering that only runs a couple of minutes and is only worth watching for a couple of laughs from Savini and Berryman. Next we’re treated to a few deleted scenes that, just like the rest of the film that actually made it to the final cut, offer very little but a ton of sluggish exposition.
A longer featurette comes in the form of Let There Be Light: The Making of Absence of Light, giving us more on-set footage and more in-depth interviews with the cast and crew. It’s mainly the actors’ piece, as they discuss their own craft, but you can’t help but cringe at some of the self congratulation on display – especially when it’s with regards to the pathetic digital effects.
The follow-up Caroline Munro interview appears to have been recorded as a snap decision at a convention, with absolutely horrific sound and picture quality. This one again runs only a couple of minutes, and offers nothing of any particular value or insight to the production.
Finally, we have the FX Secrets, where you too can learn the secret of shitty animation and shooting mincemeat from an air cannon. This one’s short and cheerful, and worth it for the unintentional hilarity when the digital effects are being discussed.
1/2 out of 5
2 1/2 out of 5