Thursday, October 8, 2009

October Horror-thon #8: "Dead Space: Downfall" (2008)

They say in space, no one can hear you scream, but according to Dead Space: Downfall, there are plenty around to witness you getting ripped limb from limb. This prequel to the popular video game takes place deep in the cosmos, where a strange new discovery has been unearthed. On a barren mining colony, workers have stumbled upon a massive artifact of great significance to a religious order. The good ship Nishimura is summoned to haul the monolith back to earth, but this plan runs into a teensy snag -- and by snag, I mean abject horror. It seems that moving the artifact from its resting place has let loose a swarm of nasty creatures who kill their victims and transform them into monstrous shells of their former selves. The Nishimura is overrun in no time, leaving it up to security honcho Alissa Vincent (voice of Nikki Futterman) and a handful of comrades to quell the threat before it sets its sights on our world.

In the grand scheme of video game-based movies, Dead Space: Downfall seemed like little cause for worry. An animated and modestly-presented lead-in to its source title seemed managable, with few hang-ups to fret over and just enough time to pound out an effective atmosphere. But Dead Space: Downfall proves to be a veritable slave to its own limitations; not only does it give itself relatively little to do, it feels hesitant to make any sort of noticeable impression. The monsters offer some relief, being comprised of ghouls with assorted exposures to the ugly stick, but after a while, even their ghastly appearances wear thin. The main malfunction is that there's no rising tension; once the artifact is dug up, it's pretty much an endless firefight between the creatures and those humans with all their appendages intact. Rarely until its final and admittedly spooky final scene does the film evoke a real sense of fear. A blood bonanza holds court most of the time, giving gorehounds much to gnaw on (including a doomed crewman's memorable "splitting headache") but shortchanging those hoping for more substantial fare.

The question that accompanies every flick drawn from a video game is why pay to see someone else have the sort of fun you could have even more of in the comfort of your own home? Though it's an improved alternative to the Max Paynes and Hitmans of yet, its efforts to build a makeshift mythology for the source material yield lukewarm results at best. To borrow Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw's own description of the game, Dead Space: Downfall is competent but bland, good for a thrill here and there but nothing consistently engaging.

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