The Rizen, written and directed by Matt Mitchell, Lost Eye Films, 2017
Reviewed by Matt Barber
There is a balance in The Rizen between the old and the new. On the one hand, the film feels like a trip back to the days of 1980s, low budget horror movies such as Michael Mann’s The Keep (1983), but there is also a strong sense of first-person shooter video games such as Half-Life and Portal. Set in 1955, much of the film takes place in a labyrinth of dark bunkers underneath the English countryside. The main character is Frances, played, in a strong and commited performance, by Laura Swift. The film starts as she awakes in the bunker, her memory wiped and with only an identity card in her pocket to tell who she is. Frances explores her environment and quickly encounters a strange and unsettling creature: a man whose head is wrapped in gungy bandages and who has an insect-like way of moving. The man attacks her and she efficiently dispatches him with a rock. The rest of the film follows Frances as she meets other ‘survivors’, a wet professor and a soldier, and they slowly uncover the remains of the bunker and, through flashbacks, the events that lead to the creature’s being ‘born’.
The setting of the 1950s gives the film a personality, the performances are all slightly affected and old-fashioned. My feeling was this could have been play on further, however. With the film taking place almost entirely in the bunker, the period setting is often left to one side with nothing to suggest the 1950s other than the clipped dialogue between the characters. This may become less of an issue with the sequel (currently being made) if it expands its focus beyond the original setting.
The film pleasingly mixes science fiction and the occult. The creepiness comes from the mystery and from the jarring collision of the two, a building sense of unease that is far more effective than the occasional moments of visceral body horror. At one point in the film the professor reveals a note book filled with a mixture of theoretical physics and ancient script, a combination that reminded me of John Carpenter’s underrated Prince of Darkness (1987). In this way, The Rizen makes a blessing out of its shoestring budget, relying on suggestion over spectacle. This is not to say that all the shocks are subtle and conceptual however. There is a thread of black comedy through the film as our heroes defeat the leechy, bandaged monsters in ever-increasingly violent ways. The use of a crowbar (straight out of Half-Life) is especially visceral and inventive. The closing scenes in which we get a glimpse of an alien planet, are also extremely effectively realised and, with an ambiguous ending, the film opens the door (well – maybe an interdimensional portal) for the next instalment.
I’d recommend The Rizen. It is simple, stylish and distinctive – a movie that feels old fashioned but has a neat contemporary twist.