What I'm Watching: Dark Haul
I really ought to be working on Friday's review, but I've been watching a lot of movies this week, and I should share at LEAST one of them.
Which brings us to Dark Haul. Or as it is also known, Monster Truck. Which is a MUCH better name, but I'll come around to that.
This premiered awhile ago on Syfy (sic) Channel, but I missed it. When I was going through the monthly disc releases, this came up, and I kinda rolled my eyes at the cover, featuring a winged demon hanging ten atop an 18 wheeler. But as I do with these things, I watched the trailer, and...I was actually impressed. The idea was creative, the acting was decent, and okay, the CGI was pretty bad and not up to any sort of par, but the plot and cast were SO strong, I had to check this out.
And let me tell you, I am SO glad I did.
The plot centers around a centuries-old prophecy detailing a demonic child being born, leading towards a battle between man and beast. The child is captured, but shortly afterwards, his twin sister who is slightly less demonic is born. But she's still got a tail and some rage issues.
We pick things up almost 300 years later, in the present day, with the siblings being kept captive to varying degrees by the same religious sect, sworn to keep these two under wraps. They escape every once in awhile, which is where we find them at the start of the movie, but they're always soon captured.
Zib may have a...unique name, and she may be a sympathetic character, but she's also partly demonic. Some of the sect have given her a longer leash and more freedom, but she is still their captive, and after three centuries, she wants her freedom, despite being more on the benevolent side. Slightly.
There's a rift between the sect, with the side that sees Zib as a good person despite her heritage, and wants to just keep on keeping on, with imprisoning her brother, and staving off that prophesied final battle. The other side of the argument wants the demon dead. Plain and simple. They are confident in their ability to kill the demon, and don't fear losing and unleashing hell on Earth if they were to fail.
But with the brother's powers growing stronger with each passing day, they need to make a decision, and a very tenuous consensus is made to transport him to hallowed ground for better confinement and control, and one of them strikes a bargain with Zib to give her more of a life if she plays along and keeps her brother calm during the trip.
That naturally fails, because the movie needs conflict. Once the truck transporting the monster crashes (SEE?? MONSTER TRUCK!) it's a race to the cabin where the twins were born, and the prophecy says the final battle shall be had.
This plot is WAY convoluted, and I'm still debating if it's in a good way, or if it's a bit too much. I lean towards it being good, because the rough idea is pretty simple; demonic twins, with a prophecy, and high stakes. So you drop in some competing factions, and some conflict, and while things get complex, I think the movie needed the complexity to elevate things.
The biggest problem comes from the movie being too short. They really could have used an extra 20 minutes to better explain just a few things. The twins' powers are not well presented when we first encounter them, and with this brand new lore and mythology, we are really thrown into the deep end. Things DO get eventually explained though, it just takes awhile to make sense of why people are doing some REALLY DUMB things, until you understand that the brother has mind control powers than can make people see illusions and do things. I so could have used that earlier in the movie, because it took me too long to get it.
But again, once you DO get it, yeah, it's a great ride.
Easily the best part of this movie is Evalena Marie as Zib. This character could have been SO one note, but she brings so much to a well-written character. She spends a lot of time being shocked and dragged around by her captors, but this poor girl...she has been so damaged, and so broken, and so hurt by these people...I never thought I'd be sympathetic of a demon, but she really brings it. Zib is a broken person, and Evalena brings a nuance and depth to the character that she really needs to sell the internal struggle.
She gives two great performances, one where she rails against the religious sect, about how some may treat her as a friend, about how they may give her more of a leash than her brother, but she is still VERY aware what they think of her, how they treat her, and the usual stuff about a golden cage STILL being a cage.
The second comes later in the movie, when she's finally freed, doing everything she can to free her brother, and just live the best life they can away from the group, and the chief tormenter (Played amazingly by Tom Sizemore), and she's listing off every single moment of torment she's ever been through. And even though you know she's going to do some horrible things, you feel for this woman who has suffered, and been broken down, and is now trying to take back her agency and freedom.
Speaking of Tom Sizemore, he's the voice of the sect bent on killing the demon children, and while his viewpoint is indeed viable, he comes off as maybe a bit TOO 'evil' for lack of a better word. Where Evalena gives nuance to her conflict between goodness and darkness, Sizemore is a bit too one note and kill them all. It works, and is still great, but a little less malice might have been better.
You are clearly meant to root for Zib, but there is so many layers to everyone here, from the demons, to the guardians, and there are tons of shades of grey in everyone's motivations, as you bounce between wanting Zib to survive, to agreeing the demons need to be put down because demons, and yeah, root for the religious guys! It's a surprisingly deep movie in that regard.
The worst part after the need to define the rules of the world a bit more, and give a bit more of the lore and mythology behind everything, is the ending. There's a really poorly shot scene where the siblings are fighting, and there's an outcome (Which I won't spoil), but I have NO IDEA how it got to where it did, and there's some strange shots I think are *supposed* to be significant, but I'm not sure how or why. Yet they must be, because otherwise they are oddly placed shots of things a character is staring at for no reason.
Still, while the climax doesn't quite come off due to cinematic reasons, it's still workable because you go, "Oh, okay, someone's head fell off, I just don't know HOW that happened, but I know it did." Again, another twenty minutes just to flesh things out more would have been nice.
Like damned near everything I review, this movie ain't gonna win any awards, but it is WAY better than anyone would think upon first glance. It was super enjoyable, and while there are plot holes large enough to drive a monster truck through, they tie up a few along the way, which I appreciate. Also, the acting from the primary cast is so good, and so nuanced and layered, I can forgive a few ropey plot moments. You're here to watch Zib's struggle with morality and freedom, not for rolling heads.
Those are nice bonuses, and some explanation of the hows would be nice, but they're not the MAIN reason.
Dark Haul is far, FAR from perfect, with a universe they take too long to define, and some odd moments, but I came out of this movie absolutely loving it, and I want to see more of this world and the characters in it. Well, those that survived. If you had told me that I would be describing a Syfy Channel movie as gripping, engaging, and with at least one amazingly deep character performance just two weeks ago, I would have laughed in your face and thrown Sharknado at your head.
But here we are, and despite Dark Haul's flaws, it is a great ride, and very much a guilty pleasure, with some surprising depth to it. I can't call it a great movie, it has too many problems I can't overlook just in the cinematic side of things, but I definitely recommend it, and absolutely loved it despite the issues. At the end of the day, Dark Haul created an interesting world with a mythology all its own and deep characters that made me want more, and that's no mean feat.