Tuesday, 30 April 2013
Dark Watchers: The Women in Black
Writer: Philip Gardiner
Producers: Philip Gardiner, Melanie Denholme
Cast: Melanie Denholme, Eirian Cohen, Val Monk
Year of release: 2012
Reviewed from: online
Am I misremembering or was The Stone: No Soul Unturned really this bad? I mean, I know The Stone was pretty rubbish and, re-reading my review, I find a bunch of criticisms that could also be levelled at Dark Watchers: an incoherent story, improvised dialogue, poor acting, a tendency to pad with scene-setting. But I’m sure that The Stone wasn’t actually this bad. I recall it at least being recognisably a film, even if it wasn’t up to, well, anything. It was a long way from good, but it wasn't unwatchable.
On the other hand, Dark Watchers: The Women in Black is utter, utter crap from start to not-too-distant finish. The story is not only incoherent, it actually seems to be missing. There is no discernible plot whatsoever. Vast swathes of a film which only just scrapes feature length are ‘atmospheric shots’ of beaches and woodland or just people sleeping or getting dressed. It’s about eight minutes before anything actually happens at all.
The Stone at least had characters of some sort; Dark Watchers has none. The trio of female leads are genuinely only differentiated by their hair colour: blonde, brunette and redhead. Two of them are presumably lesbians as they share a bed, but maybe the other one is too. And they are forever getting dressed or undressed beneath the unblinking gaze of a fish-eye lens. It’s like the film keeps considering becoming a porno but then bottles it at the last moment.
None of the cast can act; they certainly can’t improvise. If there’s one thing more agonising than watching non-actors trying to act, it’s watching non-actors trying to act without a script. Viewing The Stone, one at least got the impression that there was a story, that the ‘actors’ had been given some direction and maybe they had even had a rehearsal. But Dark Watchers really seems like the director set the camera running then went down the pub and left these poor, talentless women to just talk crap for five minutes.
The reason why I am comparing these two features, the astute amongst you will have spotted, is that Dark Watchers is a Philip Gardiner joint. Gardiner is extraordinarily prolific. After years of banging out video documentaries about batshit conspiracy theories and paranormal bollocks, The Stone was his first narrative feature, made just three years ago. Between that and Dark Watchers he also found the time to make Cam Girl, House of Sin, One Hour to Die, Paranormal Haunting: The Curse of the Blue Moon Inn and Lady of the Dark: Genesis of the Serpent Vampire. And since then he has made Awesome Killer Audition and Exorcist Chronicles and is now working on Dead Walkers: Rise of the 4th Reich.
Basically, the set-up seems to be this. Warren Croyle at Chemical Burn Entertainment, who releases all of Gardiner’s wacko crockumentaries, gives the Englishman money to make features. Gardiner knocks 'em out and Croyle releases them, whatever they’re like. It’s good work if you can get it and I know many, many British film-makers who would love to have a US angel providing funds and guaranteed distribution.
But here’s the thing. You would think, would you not, that anyone making their seventh (count 'em) movie would have learned something from the preceding six. On the strength of this, however, Philip Gardiner seems to be getting worse. Obviously you can’t plot a graph from just two points and I need to see some more of the man’s work (Paranormal Haunting is in the TBW pile somewhere) but unless my memory of The Stone is somehow flawed and I’ve blocked out its worst excesses, then Dark Watchers is a massive retrograde step in a career which was already starting from pretty close to rock bottom.
So what goes on here? Let me try to describe it to you. Blondie, Brunette and Redhead live together in a house near the sea. They have no obvious jobs, they all dress like whores and their conversations are such vacuous nothings that it’s a wonder they don’t just text each other. The only other character is a UFO spotter called Terry who comes round, with two non-speaking mates, to show the girls (on a small laptop) an attempted interview with a supposed abductee. So inept/lazy is Gardiner that he doesn’t even cut to the footage on the laptop. Instead, we have to spend five minutes squinting at a close-up of a laptop screen.
The improvised ‘dialogue’ in this film-within-a-film is just as bad as that elsewhere in this rubbish. Here’s one line I actually noted down which I think gives a flavour of what litters the soundtrack when we’re not looking at out-of-focus beaches: “We’re from the UFO Society, and we’re just kind of looking for some evidence really, to try and find out about these UFO spottings that we’ve had lately.” Ah, nothing like enthusiasm for one’s hobby.
Two of the girls reckon they lost four hours the previous day, although they seem to be such braindead tarts that it’s entirely possible they just had their watches on upside-down. They subsequently find black patches of stuff appearing on their skin, and they occasionally throw up. Later they find Terry drunk on the beach, take him home and then find he has disappeared. Eventually, one of the women gets covered entirely in black sticky stuff while wearing literally the worst effects contact lenses I have ever seen.
Every so often one or other person gets a call on their mobile which is an FX-distort voice saying “Babylon. Babylon. Return to the Garden of Eden.” No-one mentions these calls to other people, even when there are other people in the room at the time.
That’s it. That’s the entirety of the plot so far as I can see.
But what about the whole Men in Black schtick? After all, this is the film that was shot (in October 2011) as Men in Black: The Dark Watchers before a polite cough from the legal gorillas at Columbia Pictures prompted a swift title change. Well, there is a bald, black dude in full MiB gear who wanders around in various shots, sometimes accompanied by, or possibly chasing, or possibly being chased by, a dark humanoid figure which scampers on all fours and may possibly therefore be an alien. Occasionally one or both of these appear inside the women’s house but they seem to be invisible as no-one notices them. There are also some interwoven scenes of someone or other running scared through some woodland. At the end, a car drives up to the camera and the black bald guy gets out, followed by the three women.
Self-indulgent, amateur-hour rubbish, Dark Watchers has not one thing in its favour. It’s not scary (despite the actresses’ screaming in the last ten minutes or so), it’s not actually atmospheric (despite endless mixed-focus shots of pebbly beaches and deciduous woodland), it’s not interesting or intriguing or comprehensible. Not entertaining in any way. Not even so bad it’s good. The women look like skanks, the UFO nut looks like he ate too many pies and bald black guy never says anything, never does anything and (like so much of this wannabe-arty film) is never even in proper focus.
I’ve raised the MJS rating up from the very bottom of the scale by one notch because, despite the vacuous tedium of the off-the-cuff mutterings of the cast, their words are at least audible. So one point for decent sound-recording - which is pretty ironic. I’ve seen so many films where potentially interesting and/or important dialogue is inaudible due to bad recording or mixing; yet here, where not one interesting or relevant word is spoken throughout, I can hear every one of them.
There is no evidence that cast or camera were given any direction. The editing is shit, the production design is non-existent and there are no effects beyond the black goop and the joke-shop contact lenses. I’m holding fire on the photography only because what I watched was a low-res version posted free online in January 2013 by Gardiner (along with The Stone and a bunch of other stuff). Comparison with the film’s trailer shows that the photography is nowhere near as bad as what I saw, so I’ll give that the benefit of the doubt.
Presumably the idea behind posting these low-res versions is that people will watch them, then want to see the film properly. But Dark Watchers is agony to sit through and it is inconceivable that anybody might want to ever watch it again. Surely this is more likely to put off potential buyers. That said, we know that most of Gardiner’s established fanbase live in some sort of bizarro world where aliens and goblins are real so, since they believe any old shit they’re told, maybe they also believe that he makes watchable films. Maybe he does. Maybe this is an anomaly and he has actually been getting better since The Stone. But somehow I doubt it. You have to wonder whether Gardiner even watched this film before sending it to Croyle, especially given the rate at which he knocks out this stuff. Did Croyle watch it before releasing the DVD in March 2012? Does anyone involved with these films care what they’re like at all?
The online version of Dark Watchers runs a not-quite-feature-length 67 minutes but stops abruptly with no credits. Various sources list this as 80 minutes and I've found a review which says there's a six-minute music video right at the end so there are presumably seven minutes of agonisingly slow credits - unless there are extra scenes after the ‘getting out of a car’ bit. But that would mean that Gardiner had put 90 per cent of his film online then expected people to buy/rent the movie to find out what happens at the end (bearing in mind that absolutely nothing has happened before this cut-off point). I don’t believe anyone would do that. But then, I don’t believe anyone would pass off a piece-of-crap student film like Dark Watchers as a real movie.
Why do I watch these things? I watch them because somebody’s got to. I watch them to save you the trouble. I watch them because sometimes I find real gems, or at least films with promise. Dark Watchers has no promise whatsoever. It’s a waste of everybody’s time.
Blondie is played by Melanie Denholme, the least worst actor here, who seems to be Gardiner’s muse as she has appeared in most of his films and also produced some of them (including this). More recently she has teamed up with David VG Davies (Three’s a Shroud) for a feature called Killer Conversation. Brunette is Eirian Cohen, who was in a few other Gardiner movies plus Molly Crows, The Psychiatrist and The Eschatrilogy. The possibly not-lesbian one is played by Val Monk: also in Molly Crows and The Eschatrilogy and, bizarrely, in a film with me! While we didn’t share any scenes - she’s in a nightclub, I’m at a wedding and an auction - nevertheless we both have Bollywood comedy Yamla Pagla Deewana 2 on our CV. How about that? Everyone on the IMDB is no more than six degrees away from Philip Gardiner.
Black bald fella, who probably comes out of the film with the most credibility since he never says a word but just stands around looking moody and almost in-focus, is Rudy Barrow. He’s in a couple of Gardiner features but also the Jonathan Sothcott-produced Rise and Fall of a White Collar Hooligan, plus Killer Conversation and The Dead Inside. [Several months after posting this review, I actually acted alongside Rudy in a scene for The Wrong Floor, without realising who he was! - MJS]] Terry is played by Lee Roberts who, according to his self-penned IMDB biography, is “Paranormal content advisor for UK Film Maker Philip Gardiner”. So his job is presumably to advise PG about things that aren’t real. Jessica Messenger, who must be one of the people running through the woods, is a Derby lass who has been in Derby horror features Devil’s Tower and Wasteland plus a couple of Gardiners and an extraordinary-looking thing shot in Nigeria called Psoro.
MJS rating: D