FANTASIA: DARK FLOORS Review
Yes, the fear is here. Dark Floors - the Finnish horror film conceived and created as a starring vehicle for Finnish metal act Lordi - just hit screens in its native country and is making its market debut here in Berlin. The early teasers were surprisingly effective, making it very clear that Lordi weren't aiming for a campy cheese fest with this but were rather trying their hand and putting together a legitimate horror film, while also showcasing the sure hand of director Pete Riski behind the camera, and those teasers have been borne out in the finished film. Not a gore fest by any means - it would likely get a PG-13 rating in the US - the film is a tightly plotted, exceptionally well shot thrill ride that sets the rules of its world very early on, lets the audience know what to expect and then executes flawlessly. They're not trying to reinvent the wheel here, but they knew exactly what sort of film they wanted Dark Floors to be and made a very good one. And, surprisingly, a good amount of the film's success has to come from the fact that Lordi opted to let others be the stars of their own personal vanity project while stepping back into support roles themselves.
We begin in a nameless hospital in a nameless town somewhere, I presume, in the USA. Sarah, a young girl of about ten, is being subjected to a battery of tests by hospital doctors to determine the exact cause and nature of what appears to be some form of autism that she has been stricken with. Unimpressed by the progress - or lack thereof - the hospital is making, Sarah's father, Ben, has been considering pulling her out of treatment to pursue other options, a decision he acts upon shortly after the scanning machine being used to map Sarah's brain shorts out and catches fire while his daughter is still in it. He packs the girl up late at night, wheels her down the hall and steps into an elevator already occupied by John - a man there paying a visit to a nameless relative - Emily - one of Sarah's nurses - Tobias - a mentally ill man, likely homeless by the look of him - and Ray - the security guard escorting Tobias out of the hospital.
And then everything goes wrong. The elevator stalls between the sixth and seventh floors, all power in the building shutting down. The intercom only repeats their own voices back to them when used. When power resumes and the elevator opens they find the hospital deserted and set out to descend the building floor by floor, discovering to their horror that each level down becomes more horrific than the last, the desolation of the sixth giving way to increasing degrees of disrepair, destruction and bloodshed and, before long, evil, demonic creatures begin to appear. Where have they come from? Why do Sarah and Tobias always seem to know they are coming shortly before they arrive? And why are they so interested in the girl? If the group can survive long enough they just may find out ...
Now, Dark Floors is clearly not a perfect movie. The script shows signs of being written outside of the author's native language - which it was - in some unsteady dialog and spotty character moments. There are also a couple of obvious plot holes - more logic problems, really - that the film asks you to accept. But perfect or not it is an awful lot of fun. The logic issues are nothing beyond what you see in any number of films, the major ones basically coming down to cooked up obstructions to force the characters to stop on each floor rather than descending directly, and the dialog issues are more than overcome by an immensely likable cast.
The film has three great strengths. First, it establishes the world and gets to the action very quickly, keeping the pace brisk once things get rolling. Riski clearly knows that people are going to see this movie to see people pursued by monsters and have little desire to see them sitting around talking and he gives his audience what it wants and plenty of it. Second, there is the film's technical end. It is a beautifully shot piece of work that makes stellar use of what is apparently one of the largest film sets ever built for a Scandanavian production. This thing looks great. And it's not just the film work, the production design is remarkably detailed and the effects - whether physical creature effects, blood and gore or CGI - are all excellent. And finally, there is the cast. The human characters are all very strong, all quite believable despite playing roles that are little more than basic types. And then there is the way Lordi opt to appear, each of the band members essentially having domain of one floor of the hospital, each providing a threat to the human survivors as they move through the building. The creature work on the band is very strong - they all look fantastic on the big screen - and by keeping their appearances brief and to the point they fuel the drama between the human characters and the film is very much stronger for taking this approach.
In the end Dark Floors is a pure piece of popcorn entertainment, a film that starts with the old belief that the mentally ill have the ability to see into the spiritual world - a belief that's been around in one form or another at least since the middle ages - and builds a sharp little shocker around it. Very fun and definitely recommended.