Horror, when boiled down to its core, is usually about a struggle between two opposing forces. One force being good, and the other evil. While there are examples of flicks flipping this idea on its head and fooling with our expectations and preconceptions, even the best of the genre subscribe to this age old method of storytelling. The Devil’s Tomb is no different, but instead of keeping the fight mostly isolated, it succeeds in trying to give a larger set of cosmic ramifications to the events that take place over its 90 minute run time. It is ambitious, and is sure to create ill will in a certain set of viewers, but for horror, a little controversy is never a bad thing.
Tomb, as I will refer to it from now on, concerns itself with Mack (Cuba Gooding Jr.) and his crack squad of elite soldiers who are sent on a mission to rescue a scientist from a fancy underground research facility in the middle of nowhere, which we presume is somewhere in the middle east due to the abundance of sand and wind. They are escorting a CIA operative named Elissa down there as well, who, as luck would have it, knows a hell of a lot more about the mission details then our soldiers do. Things go pretty smoothly at the start (don’t they always?) until a very zombied up guy pops up and starts asking deep questions concerning the validity of many religious scriptures. As you can imagine, Mack and his crew aren’t too impressed, and pop him one good one in his shoulder. As things get weirder and weirder, and the line between what is real and what is a trick being played on them but beings beyond normal comprehension, Mack and his squad begin to undercover the nature of what was really going on down in lab, and the real reason why they are there.
What follows is not just a retelling of Night of the Living Dead with a Middle Eastern War backdrop as even I suspected when i started watching. Instead, we are treated to a film doing its best to please both mainstream (read: dumb as a box of rocks) horror audiences AND cater to the more sophisticated genre fans by combining real world mythologies and spiritual interests, with the grim realm of psychological terror with a touch of gung ho action. As I stated earlier, it is one hell of a lofty goal to try and achieve, and even though it ultimately falls short of being unquestionably reccomendable, it at least TRIES to be something very different while carrying some real world relevance. In an age filled with souless cash-ins and carbon copies, Tomb feels refreshing even with its faults.
Much of this enjoyment can be credited torward the cast, which is chock full of actors and actresses who have genre experience, as well as some who were beautifully cast against type. The best example of this being Cuba Gooding Jr. who brings a solemnity to his role not many others could. Bill Moseley is his normal self, and by normal I mean brilliant. Henry Rollins proves once again he can act his face off, and is worth much more than just the novelty bit parts he usually gets in genre flicks. Shit, even Jason London shows some chops, and fits in well. And then there is Ron Perlman, who I have yet to see not give 110% to a role, and even though his on screen presence is pretty minimal, he makes a huge impact and fits his character like a glove. Ray Winstone is also solid but is seen mainly in flashbacks, which means he isn’t a main draw. The rest of the cast all feel comfy in their roles, and while the sexiness of both the females and males is amped up a touch, it is necessary to make sure the girls and guys get their allotment of eye candy in today’s society.
The marriage of writing and directing also feels correct, which is a big departure from many films of the 21st century. Personally, I can tell within just a few minutes if the writer and director are on the same page for a particular project. It’s hard to define, but all to often I begin watching a movie, and the directors tone, use of color, and pace seem to be playing against what is being seen, and for someone who loves to look under the hood of even the shallowest of movies, that can take me out of an experience faster than anything else. Tomb however, shows that Jason Connery (director) understood exactly where Keith Kjornes(writer) was coming from, and trying to go with his story. Connery plays things pretty straight, and shows confidence in his cast to be able to make their characters not only likable space occupiers, but valuable emotional commodities, fusing both the stereotypical, surface aspects of their characters, as well as their sometimes surprisingly deep personal histories and motivations. If Connery is guilty of anything, it may be that he allowed himself to be pigeon holed into making the flick move too quickly, as their were many facets of the characters I would have loved to delve more deeply into, but instead felt hurried along in order to get to the next “bang bang” scene or plot device.
The sound and visuals are all handled very well, and very rarely show signs of being limited by a smaller budget. CGI is keep to an absolute minimum, and the “backtracking through locations we have already seen a million times” rarely happens. Tomb takes place almost entirely within the underground complex, so expect a darker movie on a whole, with lighting coming from muzzle flashes and computer screens more often then it comes from light fixtures or the sun. One interesting area where director Jason Connery gets to flex his muscle a bit is in the tastefully done flashbacks Mack has to an “incident” involving his former Commanding Officer. Connery gives us a few seconds of that incident at a time, and every time Mack has another flashback, we see what we saw before, but with a few more seconds tacked on at the end. He draws it out, making us wonder what eventually wound up happening in that ravaged building, but he does so in a stylish manner that runs parallel to the present day action. It’s nothing new, and anyone who has seen Christopher Nolans masterpiece Memento will already be familiar with the technique, but it works and is certainly commendable.
When it’s all said and done, Tomb doesn’t go down as a modern day heavyweight of horror, and realistically speaking, will probably only be remembered because Cuba Gooding Jr. is in it. But Tomb brings to the table a fairly fresh set of principles, and blows away most of its contemporaries by seperating itself from pack with three dimensional characters, a plot with shares as much in common with the forefathers of horror as it does current day politics and theology, and acting that is way above par for straight to dvd fare. Tomb may be uneven and slightly preachy at times, but when it fails AND when it succeeds, it does so on its own terms, instead of making a mockery of something that came before it which was undoubtedly better.
Recommended for horror vets who don’t mind seeing something a little different.