The testimony of the critic is no more. Steven Seagal has rendered dead the doubts, the scathing words, the formulas of scorn – all are past to the present, crumbled into nothing. The critic lies stunned, a wash of surprise dirtying his eyes. Seagal has veered off the pompously-wrought trajectory set by the critic, far from the lines of fate traced by the self-important twitches of Fellini-stained hands. Gone are the genre prisons that once contained row upon row of Half Past Dead and Flight of Fury. The old canvas of Action, dotted here and there by Revenge, Cop, Drug Lord, Revenge, Corruption, Terrorism, Revenge – now blotted out by a new canvas, a fresh genre in which to explore deep philosophical thinking as only Seagal can.
The shift: typicality gives way to horror, the domain of monsters, and repulsive alterity. The previously untouched genre unfurls its wares in Seagal’s glow, ready to be transmuted into something wholly new: a horror film starring Steven Seagal.
Such is the essence of Against the Dark. It’s a journey to the frontier of each and every illusion we hold regarding Seagal. Sentences will need to be rewritten in the aftermath, the venture simultaneously breaking and remanufacturing everything we thought we knew. Orthodoxy is smote. Old words are necessarily chewed to mush. Only with Seagal’s sanction will the words work – otherwise they die in the fires of banality.
Against the Dark’s world is one we’ve all come to accept, the ravaged deathscape too often seen, one that now endears as much as it irritates. Like the senile aunt who regurgitates the same stories ad nauseam, the world where disease induces derangement in the citizenship, producing homicidal maniacs that want to feast on your flesh, leaving you a carrier of their infection – this too becomes an object of love. Let it unfold, they plead, give it your time, gratify its wants, freely lend your ears, for it means no harm and has been produced in the most sincere ludic spirit.
Humanity’s depleted numbers stand as potential victims, prey to the hordes of unleashed evil, the strange vampire-mutant xeno-who-the-fuck-knows? that now roam the city. Opposing this force is Seagal, who leads a team of sword-master vigilantes called Hunters. They spend their evenings strolling through the streets, killing as many creatures as possible. When their collective punch is called upon, you can be sure their timely arrival will furnish the screen in hope, relief and oodles of blood.
The main thread of the film has a group of survivors wandering through an abandoned hospital, waiting for Seagal and his pals to come and rescue them. Occasionally we cross-cut to a military encampment where Keith David’s army asshole plans to ‘disinfect’ the area, that is, bomb the fuck out of it. All of which sets up a scenario where Seagal must rescue the survivors and escape the area, time’s ticking hand a constant burden.
It’s a complex narrative. One that demands rumination, an hour or two of heady reflection. Don’t feel embarrassed if you need to reread the last paragraph.
The film is a picture of grey and green, floaty cameras stuttering in time to the plot. Superfluities of the colour spectrum become absorbed in a flash of quick-fire cutaways and slow-motion pans. Blurred tilts disclose the actions of Seagal and his team, a merry band that includes The Rock’s stunt double. Yes, the film is that star-studded! The producers have clearly set no limits when it comes to casting – the cheap Sarah Polley substitute being sufficient proof of that.
But let’s not be coy: no one watches a Seagal film to admire the talents of the supporting cast. Seagal poses his own questions, lives his own commentary, gives voice to the silent imaginings of his own interests. Between films he stores his ideas, notions collected and nurtured, milk in the teat ready to be drawn. Then it comes, spewing forth in deluges of acumen. The unnoticed becomes noticed, Seagal sails past Ithaca and enters a new realm, a place of vivid insight and melodious blues barre-chords.
Oh Seagal! at which puny hubris do you aim your magnificent mentality this time?
The answer, as always, lies in the title.