The Rizen, 2017.
Directed by Matt Mitchell.
Starring Laura Swift, Sally Phillips, Tom Goodman-Hill, Julian Rhind-Tutt, Bruce Payne, Lee Latchford-Evans, Jayson Dickens, Christopher Tajah, and Laurence Kennedy.
In the 1950s, a woman awakens in an underground tunnel with no memory of how she got there. She discovers that the military has been conducting occult experiments in an effort to gain an early upper hand in the Arms Race, an effort that has gone horribly awry, and must fend of bandaged, zombie-like monsters while helping others get to safety.
The Rizen, the new sci-fi/horror hybrid from writer-director Matt Mitchell (Gangsters, Guns & Zombies) plays out like a strange mash-up of Resident Evil, The Wizard of Oz, Event Horizon, and Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow. It inherits its amnesiac heroine rampaging through an underground laboratory from Evil, its merry band of evil fighting adventurers from Wizard, its portal-to-hell plot from Horizon, and its fuzzy-edged, hand-colored visual style from Sky Captain. Despite being so brazenly derivative, The Rizen manages to feel quite fresh, mostly because the film embraces its own messy strangeness.
The film begins with taciturn heroine Frances being dragged through a tunnel by an icky looking and sounding baddy. Resourceful from the get-go, Frances grabs a rock and does him in with a series of skull-crushing punches. Frances is played by stunt performer-turned-actress Laura Swift, who adds incredible poise and physicality to the role. Even as the plot gets more and more outlandish, Frances’s strength and physical resourceful remains completely believable because of Swift’s performance.
Frances eventually stumbles upon Professor Richard Baughman (Christopher Tajah), a bumbling scientist who, like Frances, has no idea how he arrived in the tunnel. They continue on until they discover handcuffed soldier Briggs (Patrick Knowles). As the three venture onward, their memories begin to return and they learn more about their surroundings, as well as the larger implications of the experiments that have put them in their current predicament.
This all comes to a head in a delightfully bonkers and beautifully realised Lovecraftian ending. This excellent conclusion exemplifies one of The Rizen’s finer qualities, which is that it truly embraces its strange, quirky style. There is no self-consciousness or apology here.
The film moves forward quickly, seeming faster than its 94-minute runtime, and this is largely because of consistent action, all of which is choreographed nicely, and the look of the film, which resembles a moving vintage photograph thanks to a beautiful color palette and quality lensing by cinematographer Jamie Burr.
While the choreography and cinematography are interesting and of good quality considering the limited budget, other elements of the production such as the sound effects, costumes, and hairdressing are thrown together in haphazard fashion. The problem with this isn’t that the characters’ hairstyles are messy or their punches sound wrong but rather that they all limit the ability for the viewer to suspend her disbelief. As many parts of The Rizen work to draw us in, we are kept at an arm’s length by constant reminders that this is make believe. Several of the performances unfortunately contribute to this feeling as well. None of the other actors have as much of a chance to shine as Swift, and several of them appear to struggle, some being too over-the-top while others play it far too straight.
Still, despite the obviously limited budget, some stiff acting, and various technical disappointments, The Rizen propels forward, maintaining interest with well-choreographed action, a suitably mysterious central plot, and a snazzy visual flair. It is fast-paced and thoroughly entertaining, even if it doesn’t completely rise to the occasion.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★