The b-movie ain’t what it used to be. There is no dri­ve-in cir­cuit to sus­tain them and the cru­elties of film dis­tri­b­u­tion have ensured that they have been ban­ished from the­aters. The SyFy Channel is one of the few viable mar­kets still inter­est­ed in pro­duc­ing low-bud­get gen­re fare. Unfortunately for b-movie fans, SyFy Channel isn’t inter­est­ed in mak­ing true b-movies. Instead, they either make cyn­i­cal, self-con­scious­ly campy junk of the Sharknado ilk or “mock­busters” that attempt to emu­late Hollywood’s big-bud­get, FX-inten­sive gen­re fare on bud­gets so tiny that it’s impos­si­ble to get good tal­ent involved, much less qual­i­ty spe­cial effects.

Dark Haul fits into the lat­ter cat­e­go­ry, attempt­ing a high-tech, action-inten­sive update of the hor­ror film on a typ­i­cal SyFy t.v. movie pock­et-change bud­get. The con­vo­lut­ed plot­line is setup in a hec­tic pro­logue depict­ing the birth of two Satan-spawned chil­dren — one mon­strous, one human in appear­ance — that are cap­tured by a reli­gious order that devotes itself to safe­guard­ing the human race from the­se hor­rors.

DarkH-bluA few hun­dred years lat­er, the two mon­sters are recap­tured after a brief escape by the order. Damon (Rick Ravenello) wants them dealt with in a humane fash­ion while rival Knicks (Tom Sizemore) is secret­ly plot­ting to kill both spawns. To fur­ther com­pli­cate things, the human/female half of the Satan-sib­ling duo, Zib (Evalena Marie), is plot­ting to free them from the repres­sive order for good. Cue a bar­rage of cheap CGI, cheap­er talk and a string of anti-cli­mac­tic, t.v. movie size bat­tles between good and evil.

Dark Haul is fast-paced and full of dra­mat­ic con­flict yet it winds up feel­ing curi­ous­ly unen­gag­ing. The first prob­lem is that the sto­ry is a mess: Ben Crane’s script plays out as a chaotic string of cheap set­pieces and sce­nes of peo­ple shout­ing at each oth­er for rea­sons the audi­ence nev­er real­ly under­stands. The more inter­est­ing angles of the plot are avoid­ed — reli­gious con­tent is rarely if ever dis­cussed — and the thin char­ac­ter­i­za­tions fall into eas­i­ly-defined types that lack any mean­ing­ful dimen­sion.

Even worse, the ham­fist­ed plot­ting relies on char­ac­ters con­sis­tent­ly act­ing in ways that defy log­ic and com­mon sense. For exam­ple, Zib is con­stant­ly escap­ing from her cap­tors, who seem strange­ly inept for peo­ple who have devot­ed a few hun­dred years to keep­ing her impris­oned. Sadly, she’s no smarter because she’s always cap­tured in a mat­ter of min­utes. This cycle is con­stant­ly repeat­ed and quick­ly becomes numb­ing.

Director Daniel Wise tries to imi­tate Hollywood gen­re fare but the bud­get ensures that he nev­er has the resources: the action chore­og­ra­phy is cheap and the CGI is ama­teur­ish, par­tic­u­lar­ly in the cheap ani­ma­tion used for the mon­strous sib­ling. He tends toward busy cam­er­a­work in an attempt to dis­tract view­ers from the bud­getary rough edges but the film’s con­stant over­reach­ing for spec­ta­cle ensures this doesn’t work. The film has a decent cast but the per­for­mances are errat­ic: Ravenello and Marie put in a solid effort with thin­ly-drawn char­ac­ter­i­za­tions but Sizemore blus­ters his way through the film in a blank-eyed way that sug­gests he’d rather be any­where else.

In short, Dark Haul is anoth­er dis­pos­able filler for the SyFy sched­ule. There’s obvi­ous­ly an audi­ence for the­se things given their longevi­ty but any­one who grew up with smart­ly-craft­ed b-movies will find a film like Dark Haul to be a depress­ing sub­sti­tute.

Blu-Ray Notes: this title got a sur­prise blu-ray release from Scream Factory. The trans­fer does well the film’s pro­fes­sion­al dig­i­tal pho­tog­ra­phy (per­haps its best asset) and the busy 5.1 stereo mix is pre­sent­ed in loss­less form. There are no extras aside from a trail­er that does its best to sell the film in a Hollywood style.