SEPTEMBER 2, 2012
Maybe someday I'll understand why anyone is trying to make a movie (or even series of movies) out of Stephen King's The Dark Tower instead of a cable show in the vein of Game Of Thrones, where each season covers a book and the added length means it's done right by the fans. It will also allow them to dive into the crazy areas of the last couple books without losing the viewers, because people will watch any show on HBO or Showtime regardless of whether or not they like it (don't believe me? Check your Twitter feed after any episode of The Newsroom or Girls). But until some version of Tower gets off the ground, we can kill some time with Beyond The Grave, which is basically a love letter to the series.
See if this sounds familiar: in a post-apocalyptic world, a dangerous, somewhat quiet man roams the landscape seeks his arch nemesis, who has no proper name. Sure, that's not too damning on its own, but when you add in a young man who is a combination of Jake and Eddie, a variety of threats that span from supernatural to human, and even someone saying "Go then, there are other worlds than these", it becomes apparent that writer/director Davi de Oliveira Pinheiro got tired of waiting for someone to make a Dark Tower movie and opted to just make his own, changing enough to not get sued but making sure that the homage was clear to those who would recognize it (the credits also end with "Beware of the Walking Dude", which can also be a reference to The Stand but if you know your Tower it's part of the lore in that world as well).
So it's kind of amusing that, like the Tower series, the first half is stronger than the second. No, Pinheiro doesn't go insane and put himself in the movie (for the record, I enjoyed that aspect of Tower, but I would never argue with those who found it too much. Their loss, but I understand), but there's a crucial, rather shocking turn at the film's halfway point, and from then on it just doesn't have the same energy and creativity as it did early on. A major mystery is given a rather unsatisfying conclusion, and this plot point results in the loss of one of the film's strongest aspects - the dynamic between our hero and the two survivors he picks up early on and begins to train.
My favorite scene in the film demonstrates their relationship perfectly. It's right after they've all met, and the hero (no one in the movie is named, by the way) is silently driving with the two teens. The male teen tries to talk to him, but the hero isn't replying, so the kid just has both sides of the conversation himself, doing a pretty good impression of actor Rafael Tombini to boot. It's a fun scene (Tombini's deadpan stare as the kid carries on is hilarious), and it also delivers a bunch of exposition (who they are, how they came to be left alone, who they're looking for) in a way that simultaneously provides information about the one speaking and the one listening.
Later, he teaches them how to shoot without actually using bullets (he only has one left, and needs it for The Man in Bla-, er, The Dark Rider), and it's another creative, exciting scene that makes the most of the film's limited budget and strong chemistry between the actors. Somewhere in there is also a great line from the hero, about his solitary nature: "I'd rather be a crazed loner than have company six feet under ground." Hell yeah, this is awesome!
But then (SPOILER) the two kids are killed, and the rest of the movie, while still entertaining, lacks the first half's spark and creative approach to storytelling. From then on it's just more or less a revenge flick, with the hero taking out the folks who killed the kids, including a character who they thought was an ally. For someone who loves Dark Tower so much, I'm kind of surprised Pinheiro didn't see the value in giving his hero someone to bounce off of for the majority of the narrative (hell, King even brought young Jake back from the dead in the second book). Perhaps a back and forth structure would have helped, where we see the story of him and the kids in flashbacks, saving their murder for near the film's end to give us the final piece of the puzzle to explain his actions in the present (think Lost).
However, while the story loses some momentum, the cinematography does not - this is a gorgeous film from start to finish, and its slow pace is actually a blessing as it gives you more time to appreciate Melissandro Bittencourt's compositions and the Brazilian landscapes that aren't captured on film (well, digital) nearly often enough. Hell, if they ever DO get Dark Tower going, they might want to consider shooting there, as the layout and sparse locales provide this low budget production with a better "post-apoc" world look than some movies do with 100x the money.
And yes, slow pace. I only put this in the "zombie" genre for technical reasons. There ARE zombies (called "returners", or the cool sounding "Retornados"), but they don't do much - just wander around for the most part, and there aren't many of them to be seen (maybe 12 in the whole movie). But if you're burned out on typical modern zombie stuff, you should give it a look just on principle, as it at least offers something new, even if it's not as exciting as you might initially hope. In fact there's very little violence/action at all in the film, which is fine because the characters are interesting enough on their own, and the fake blood looks more like IHOP's strawberry syrup (but at least it's practical!) anyway.
So while not without missteps, overall I walked away impressed by Pinheiro's ambition and obvious love for the genre (there are some nice John Carpenter nods in there as well) - it would make a fine double feature with Doomsday, another love letter to these kinds of movies but not without its own ideas and style. Hell, maybe if he can get another couple movies under his belt before the producers figure out what to do with King's 7 (now 8!) book series, he can get the gig himself - I'd be way more excited about him doing it than Ron Howard anyway.
What say you?