Medium Raw: Night of the Wolf (DVD)
Directed by Andrew Cymek
Distributed by Anchor Bay Entertainment
Where to begin? Interminable length? An unfocused script? The worst leading man of all time? Jarring tonal shifts? Yes, Medium Raw: Night of the Wolf is guilty of all these things. Normally, detriments of this magnitude would be enough to write off a film in one fell swoop, but not here. This is a particularly frustrating one. What we have here is the promise of a decent movie completely undone by the seeming ego of its writer/director, Andrew Cymek. Presumably, he took one look at his finished script and thought, “Hell, I’m the only actor out there that can play this lead.” That’s exactly what he did. And what a mistake it was.
Cymek stars as hardboiled Johnny Morgan (how’s that for a cop cliché name?), a no-nonsense type of guy dedicated to capturing the psychotic murderer dubbed “The Wolf.” He teams with grizzled veteran John Rhys-Davies (roughly 60% of his dialogue completely unintelligible), who shows up in a glorified cameo despite second billing. Together they follow clues to the serial killer’s lair for a deadly confrontation. They find The Wolf decked out in an inexplicable suit of massive armor, complete with a spring-loaded serrated helmet simulating a wolf’s jaws. How the hell does a serial killer go uncaught when this is his ensemble of choice?
Once the murderer is captured, he’s taken to a mental asylum run by The X-Files’ Cigarette Smoking Man (William B. Davis), whose unorthodox methods include encasing an electric shock collar around the necks of his inmates for easier control. In addition to The Wolf, we’ve also got a psychotic black cannibal woman, a hulking giant of such great strength that the walls literally shake when he roars his disapproval, and a wonky foot fetishist. Various subplots arise, including an estranged relationship between our hero and a psychiatrist (producer Brigitte Kingsley), a little girl who gets lost (repeatedly) in the asylum and the presence of an attorney (Mercedes McNab) attempting to ensure her client is properly cared for.
All hell breaks loose when our hero cop slips into the asylum one night, determined to finish what he started by killing The Wolf. He fails, however, and finds himself trapped amidst a power outage where (oops!) the loonies get free and go on a killing spree. This ‘Arkham Asylum as a horror movie’ premise is quite good and there’s lots of potential to mine with such a concept. The problem? This happens an hour into the movie. And yes, once it finally gets under way, there’s still 51 minutes left to go. Clocking in at nearly two hours, Medium Raw is a movie in desperate need of an editor. Beyond the capture of The Wolf, much of the first act could’ve been trimmed. It’s clear that Cymek was working really hard to establish a core group of characters to root for before putting them through the paces, but it simply doesn’t work because the script never succeeds in making us care.
The biggest problem is with Cymek’s performance. Bar none. It’s awful beyond words. The character of Johnny Morgan isn’t written past a handful of clichés, and Cymek’s performance is so amateurish that he never rises above the material. Nearly every delivery of dialogue is flubbed, and there isn’t one convincing reaction to being tapped in an insane asylum full of wackos. Even John McClane had doubts whether or not he was going to survive Nakatomi Plaza’s invasion, and as a result audiences empathized with him because he was an actual human being. Cymek musters the smugness of an unlikeable douche and never goes anywhere else with the part. With a real actor in the role, this might’ve been a novel approach to a horror film. As it stands, however, it’s a missed opportunity.
The creative team here (Cymek and Kingsley) were also responsible for 2007’s dreary Dark Rising, a forgettable wannabe cult movie that unsuccessfully mixed comedy with light horror. It’s perhaps most memorable for the constantly displayed assets of its star (and producer) Brigitte Kingsley, who spent the whole film in a metal bikini. Admittedly, the duo fare better with Medium Raw as it’s certainly a professional-looking film with decent production value. The asylum setting is appropriately grimy, and it would’ve been nice to have seen Cymek utilize it for a variety of scares. The majority of them are variations on schlocky jumps, most of which fall flat. But they certainly got a lot of mileage out of their $1 million production budget.
The script desperately needed tightening, too. Medium Raw isn’t just too long, it’s also all over the place. Too many characters, unnecessary comedy suddenly wedged into Act Three (”You’re cooking half my staff!” screams the psychiatrist to the cannibal at one point) and with wince-inducing dialogue so bad, it needed to be reworked a few more times before putting it to film. It’s just too repetitious. The aforementioned little girl gets lost more times than one can count, characters run off into dark corridors for the thinnest reasons a script could offer and our hero cop merely acts like this is one great big inconvenience - facing off with these psychos, that is.
It’s a shame that this production goes off the rails so wildly because there’s a solid little movie hiding in here. With some editing and a better performer in the lead, Medium Raw would’ve probably been a worthwhile, if lesser, effort. The premise is fun, the asylum setting is far better-looking than most low-budget offerings littering the horror landscape these days and the pacing – while bloated and unnecessary – manages to hold one’s attention for a large chunk of the duration. In its current state, Medium Raw isn’t a very good movie, but Cymek and Kingsley have put together something that promises a solid effort down the line. As long as Andrew realizes his place is behind the camera.
Medium Raw includes twenty minutes of deleted/extended scenes and a decent audio commentary by writer/director Andrew Cymek. It’s a decent listen because Cymek talks about the faults of his film - stopping short of explaining why he decided to play the lead role. There’s some interesting production information here, too. Not a bad listen, quite honestly, and I certainly don’t consider myself a big fan of the film.
This is a step up from Dark Rising, no doubt. Perhaps the next time these folks get some money together for a feature, they’ll nail it. Medium Raw, however, is a lugubrious mess. A nice try that didn’t make the grade.
2 out of 5
2 out of 5