Director: Jeff Burr

R-POINT. 2004
Director: Su-chang Kong

Reviewed by Paghat the Ratgirl

Straight Into Darkness The box promised a supernatural war story. Well all right, I like that sort of thing!

Never trust the box.

The meaningless empty opening scene is of a screaming soldier with flamethrower flaming the snowpack since the budget didn't allow for an actual fire gag with people or buildings or even a burning stick.

Nota propitious opening to incite any expectation that Straight Into Darkness (2005) will take us anywhere but Straight into Boredom.

Filmed in Roumania, it's supposed to be the European western front in 1945. Military police are taking captured awol guys along a dirt road from nowhere to nowhere in a post-war model Jeep. Suddenly M80 firecrackers posing as land mines cause the Jeep to get replaced by a mock Jeep set on fire. Injured soldiers begin crawling toward a tree-line through the hoky wussy mine field.

As a war film it's about the least convincing ever. It's like a bunch of guys in cheaply rented costumes making an amateur film in a donkey pasture, but without the donkeys so there's just nothing interesting.

Straight Into DarknessTwo survivors of the mine field are the awol guys -- one bad, the other dull. They run through the woods for no reason other than to wear themselves out. When they get below the snowline, they slow down & just walk around for about ten minutes.

Since a supernatural tale was what the box promised, I kept sticking it out, hoping to see, oh, I dunno, a vampire nazi perhaps, or zombie grunts.

The awol guys camp in a bombed out church with a screaming priest they had to tie up to keep him quiet. Everybody's attempts at acting are painful to observe, when not merely pitiable.

When they leave the church the priest follows them, at first from a distance. He can't speak intelligibly, but they let him tag along as they wander on without map or direction in mind.

It's once again a hell of a long walk in the woods to pad this turkey out to feature length. On their walk they have very few encounters of any kind & even the crazy priest gets written out the story without having served any purpose.

They're captured by French civillians: a man, woman, & several children. The children are odd, as though from a mental-case orphanage. Odd children lend the film something it needed much, much earlier: colorful content.

Straight Into DarknessNazi infantry arrives to do battle with the ten special-needs children trained as soldiers to stand against warriors of the Reich.

The idea of mentally retarded, crippled, & mentally ill children fighting the nazies with a couple Americans who went awol might've made for a good story, & it might affect some viewers just because bad stuff happening to puppies, kittens, or small children is tough stuff even if they have no personality or names.

In the hands of, oh, an early cinema verite director from France or somewhere where people knew how it'd actually feel to be in this mess, well, it could've been a great film. From Ohio's trite shlockmeister Jeff Burr you can get only junk, despite that this is an independent production rather than Burr's usual junk-contract.

You can sort of tell the director wanted to make a good movie. Nothing in his filmmaking background (sixteen shlockers preceed this one) prepared him to make a good film. By using the same cost-cutting tricks he used to make the crummiest shlockers -- including cutting corners on talent -- he succeeded primarily at fulfilling a garbage in, garbage out prophesy.

A suggestion of reincarnation arises when the grunts find out the basement is full of looted paintings, which is what the nazi soldiers have really come to get. One of the paintings depicts the awol soldiers together with one of the special needs children (the masked girl).

It seems we're in magic realist territory rather than heading for something legitimately supernatural. That could be spiffy if it were at all developed, but it's dropped about as quickly as its introduced.

Straight Into DarknessStraight into Darkness has maybe six images that come off well, including the mask from Eyes without a Face (1959), & the heroic death of the legless boy. These second-long moments of effectiveness are buried in a whelter of bad writing, bad staging, bad acting, & general nonsense.

As the final scene approaches, I'd lost interest in everything & everyone except the mumbling masked girl who I did still hope to see take her mask off. It all gets slightly better in the last third but the whole film has only twenty minutes of content, & there is still some of the worst patience-testing padding of all time is in that "best" last half hour.

In lieu of a climax it has a semi-poetic coda. That coda rather succeeds if you're at all forgiving, or prone to weeping at the cinema. But it needed a climax in addition. It needed the children to be more than a miscellany of Rainman extras, but to have names & personalities & stories of their own, instead of all that contentless walking & walking. It needed way better adult actors. And the script needed serious rewrites until it began to tell an actual story.

My suspicion is that the title is revised from Conrad & the walking & walking & walking is supposed to be the same as the river journey in Heart of Darkness. That sort of slow pacing can work but we still needed the children to become characters rather than decorations. The film's endless faults might've slipped past without ruining it if the special needs children had been developed as real players in a real story.

R-Point A supernatural war film that does deliver the goods is from South Korea, R-Point (2004), which has such close parallels of location to any reasonably good film about American soldiers of the Viet Nam War, the story should be very accessible even to viewers who don't watch a lot of Asian cinema.

Indeed, it may be just a little too close to a Hollywood film for diehard fans of J-horror & K-horror. But it does mean you don't have to already be an Asian film fan to "get" it.

It's not well known in the west that South Korea participated in the Viet Nam War at the express request of the United States. Knowing this in advance gives context to exactly why it looks so much like an American Viet Nam War film but with Korean soldiers.

R-Point had a very decent budget with fine production values, skillful direction, excellent actors, & a mostly convincing script. So this is an A-film that delivers all the horror you'd want, but rises above its exploitation content. This is not to say it's a perfect film, but given the competition, it's damned good.

The year is 1972. A Korean troop in Viet Nam gets a mysterious radio message "Donkey 30! Long-horned beetle! Do you copy?" It's a plea for assistant from Battalion 53, which can't be, as that battalion was wiped out at Romeo Point. There'd only been one survivor, who brought back all his fellow soldiers' dogtags.

R-PointThe ghost-message has come in three times in three months. At last a team is put together to penetrate the jungle & reach "R-Point" seeking Battalion 53 survivors.

The team is headed up by Lieutenant Choi Tae-in (Gam Wu-seong). The one survivor, Sargent Oh (Song Jin-ho), will insist in his raving manner that the platoon was definitely wiped out. It's not possible another survivor is out there. He's just as insistent the enemy was not the Vietcong, but what the enemy was instead, he's too unstable to express.

The war scenes in the forests have real conviction. If the supernatural had never been added to the story, it'd still be a decent film. But these soldiers are headed for stuff mere heroism cannot trump.

After winning an encounter with Vietcong, the team finds one dying woman soldier (Ahn Nae-sang) in a pillbox. Her charm bracelet was sureptitiously taken by one of the team members, which'll turn out to have been a poor choice of thievery once the hauntings begin to proliferate.

R-PointAt a veritable "gate" beyond which is Romeo Point they discover a monument carved with the area's history.

A thousand years before, invading Chinese killed many Vietnamese at this location, & threw the corpses in a lake. The lake subsequently dried up & vanished.

A temple was built upon the site, having subsequently fallen into ruin. The area remains a holy place for whoever has no blood upon their hands, but a doomful place for those who have killed.

The ruin of an old plantation mansion, built by French colonists before the First Indochina war, appears at Romeo Point, though it hadn't seemed to be there previously. Evidently ut had been concealed by mist. It becomes the search & rescue team's headquarters.

Many haunting events occur, generally well staged & interesting one by one. These include an old French platoon's extensive graveyard -- a graveyard that appears & disappears at random -- & the ghost of the Vietcong woman soldier searching for her charm bracelet.

R-PointAnd there's the arrival of American soldiers, who had previously used the French building for their outpost. This is at first an almost pleasant meeting of comraderie between soldiers of different nations fighting on the same side. It turns into another ghostly event.

There's also a haunted pool, a haunted cavern, & the haunted ancient temple. And of course there's the Korean ghost battalion, first seen by Sargent Jan Young-soo (Oh Tae-kyung) whose descent into madness becomes somewhat central to the tale.

It tries not to seem too "busy" to sustain a dramatic & suspenseful story. But the sundry spooks do mount up & mount up until it's perhaps a little ridiculous, to much of an extravaganza in its variety of hauntings. It's headed for a "big" bloody climax, but by then every variation on spooks-of-the-war-dead has been done, & nothing remains that could be a fully satisfying conclusion.

I don't want to put anyone off seeing it who likes a haunted war story, as this is a good film. But it just misses being a real classic. There's no final resolution or revelation to cap off the story. We're shown a haunted place with as many spooks as in the Cavern of Horrors ride at the carnival. Though a fine example of the supernatural war story, it could've been so much better if it had been structured with a beginning, middle, & end rather than one lengthy ornate middle.

copyright by Paghat the Ratgirl

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