Friday, January 22, 2010

Movie Outlaw: THE ABSENCE OF LIGHT (2006)

[In the interest of full disclosure, because of the nature of the independent film business, writer/director Patrick Desmond and musician/star Rich Conant are friends of ours. They have both worked on past films of ours, we've gotten drunk with them, etc. Before you cry nepotism, however, I will state that this review was written before said friendship/support group was formed. That being said, however, this is my goddamn blog and I'll plug whoever the hell I want to.]

A world-weary killer-for-hire going by the name “Puritan” (Richard Conant) swears, as so many do, that his next job will be his last. However, this famous last words “last job” turns out to be more than he expected—more than anyone could have expected. A pair of corporations—Division 8 and “The Plague”—are at war over a devious piece of sophisticated software dubbed “Devour”. It seems that “Devour” will give the user the ability to rewrite any code… including DNA. Suddenly, our jaded anti-hero finds himself in the middle of a situation he can’t possibly comprehend and if he isn’t careful, he’ll be contributing to the eradication of the human race.

A star-studded The Absence of Light is, without a doubt, one of the most ambitious independent movies I’ve seen in a long time. The convoluted and complicated plot requires multiple viewings and asks that the audience pay close attention in order to follow what is going on and what is (and is not) being said. Despite the numerous action set-pieces, this isn’t a “whiz-bang” little action sf/horror thing whipped up in the filmmakers’ back yards. A lot of thought and purpose went into the crafting of this movie.

While the majority of the celebrities were filmed at various fan conventions over the course of a year, every star serves a purpose in Patrick Desmond’s complicated narrative and seems to be giving each respective role his or her all. The presence of so many well-known actors may actually be distracting on the first watch—it’s tempting to sit and go ‘hey, there’s Tony Todd! Take a drink!’ without absorbing the reason he’s there. Hence the need for at least a second viewing, which might be asking too much of the average man-cave slug, sad to say.)

That the pros (including Toms Savini and Sullivan, David Hess, Caroline Munro, Michael Berryman, Robyn Griggs and multiple others) are top-notch actually goes without saying. The nicest surprise is that Conant more than holds his own and manages to avoid playing Puritan as a cliché. His seasoned hit man is actually quite amiable as well as three-dimensional—particularly in scenes where his actions make him a tough person to like. Savini, too, seems to be having a terrific time, giving a fun, relaxed performance in a role quite different from what his fans might be expecting. Effects man-turned-actor Tom Sullivan is, I’m not ashamed to say, delightful as a quirky scientist and Berryman plays a straightforward businessman (more or less) and not a demented freak, which should be awesome news to Berryman fans.

While the casual viewer might be quick to point out the hotel rooms serving as many of the sets, this is actually in service of the corporation ideal as well, the sterility of the compositions making perfect sense. It’s obvious that Desmond and company worked their collective asses off crafting this movie and avoiding the obvious “audience-pleasing” pitfalls of graphic gore and nudity. They were out to create something new, to please their own artistic sensibilities. Whether or not the end result is successful is, ultimately, up to the viewer and the opinions are likely to differ radically from one person to the other.

All that said, after three viewings, I’m still hard-pressed to say exactly what the hell it’s all about. Some of this confusion could be chalked up to the fact that I’ve seen multiple incarnations of the movie (Desmond re-edited the film at least three times that I’m aware of). It’s story can’t be summed up in a single sentence but it takes chances that Hollywood would never dream of (no clear heroes or villains, a Hitchcockian morass of a plot) and that might very well be the reason it took as long as it did to find a legitimate distributor, despite its who’s-who cast roster. It won’t be to every viewer’s taste. But if you’re looking to catch something thought-provoking—even head-scratching at times—that presents some interesting ideas then this movie is for you. And is, perhaps, in a league all its own.

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