“The Blackout” marks the directorial debut of Robert David Sanders, and is basically an LA set low budget reworking of “The Mist” that now arrives on region 2 DVD via Kaleidoscope Home Entertainment. Written by Jim Beck, the film takes place on Christmas Eve and basically follows a group of reasonably diverse everyday characters in a suburban apartment block, who run into trouble when a series of tremors cause a city wide electrical blackout. They quickly come to realise that things are far more serious than they seem, as a horde of vicious creatures emerge from a fissure in the building’s basement and proceed to kill and eat everyone they come across. Trapped and with no real hope of rescue, the group begin a desperate fight for survival as they try to figure out what has happened and whether or not they have any chance of stopping it.
Although “The Blackout” was obviously a fairly low budget production, Sanders’ direction is solid and professional, and the film shows a good and intelligent use of resources that lifts it above the majority of its peers. Similarly, it’s obvious that a reasonable amount of thought has gone into the story and structure, and the film builds patiently, aiming for an increasing sense of unease through background news reports and minor weird occurrences. Beck’s script does take a stab at introducing and establishing its characters, though unfortunately none are particularly interesting and the cast are uniformly quite amateurish. This does tend to slow the proceedings down a little during the first half of the film, and most viewers are likely to be feeling decidedly impatient before the film finally decides to live up to its “Feast” like box art.
Thankfully, once Sanders does shift up a gear, though familiar, the film becomes a lot of fun as the cast are picked off one by one. There are a few amusing set pieces along the way to the predictable conclusion, and the film is nicely ruthless in its willingness to pick off sympathetic cast members who might have been expected to survive. Although this never goes far enough to generate much atmosphere or actual tension, it at least helps to hold the attention during the modest running time.
As with “The Mist”, the creatures are gradually introduced, from a few tentacles and odd insects through to the larger humanoid fiends who sporadically appear to keep the cast on their toes. The special effects are of an above average quality for this end of the horror spectrum, and the monster design is pleasingly creative, with a mixture of computer work and good old fashioned makeup that never looks too cheap. There are a few reasonable gore scenes interspersed throughout, most of which are well handled, and though there is no truly spectacular splatter, there’s just about enough to keep fans happy and to keep things bouncing along at a decent pace during the latter stages.
As a result, although “The Blackout” is still mainly for those with a tolerance for low budget horror, it certainly is well above average for its type, and one which makes several steps towards shaking off the shackles of the form. Exciting enough, once it gets going at least, and vaguely ambitious, it packs in enough creature effects and death scenes to distract from its shortcomings, and though scarcely original, it makes for perfectly respectable entertainment.
Robert David Sanders (director) / Jim Beck (screenplay)
CAST: Barbara Streifel Sanders … Elizabeth Pierce
Joseph Dunn … Daniel Pierce
Ian Malcolm … Dylan Pierce
Michael Caruso … Ethan Devane
Caroline Rich … Claire Devane
Anthony Tedesco … Freddy Appleton
James Martinez … Eddie Clifton
John Gorman … Brett Carlisle
Alexis Zibolis … Kerri Sterling
Ace Gibson … Lenny Louis