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.
A 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.