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First Look Review - DARK MOON RISING

Werewolves descend on a small town intent on finding a girl with the power that threatens them.


Review by Benjamin Poole

Directed by: Justin Price

Starring: Eric Roberts, Billy Blanks, Mikki Padilla, Jared Allman, Sasha Higgins




"Dark Moon Rising forgoes that vital quality that made all those classic werewolf films before it so memorable; namely, the human heart that beats beneath the bloody pelt of the beast. Not quite beware the moon, but Dark Moon Rising nonetheless stops just short of being something to truly howl about."





What a tragic beast is the werewolf. A rabid, shaggy dog slavering at the well-heeled leather boot of its traditionally more sophisticated counterpart, the vampire. While bloodsuckers like Dracula, the aesthetes from The Hunger, and the handsome fella next door in Fright Night present a seductive, carnal authority, the lycanthrope is instead employed to explore themes of human proclivity; the animal nature that we attempt to hide from but can never fully repress. And so, in Ginger Snaps, Ginger’s womanhood is heralded by her newly lupine nature, Silver Bullet sees a deeply repressed Reverend go full wolf on his parish under the auspices of the moon, and in I Was a Teenage Werewolf, hot and bothered Michael Landon gets all furry at the sight of a female classmate performing gym. Of course, it doesn’t end well for any of these fabulous furry freak brothers and sisters. No need for a spoiler alert, this is part of the werewolf’s essential mythology: a reversion back to the primitive state ultimately demands order being re-established, which, in turn, entails a sacrifice, and much ensuing pathos (who could ever get over tearfully thankful Jon Gries in The Monster Squad?).  These doomed creatures are half canine, after all, the most lovely and loyal of all animals. Beasts of savage instinct, but with all too human hearts.
Dark Moon Rising barks up the teens in tumescence tree too, with a ragtag bunch of werewolves descending upon Small Town USA on the lookout for a mysterious girl who poses a threat to their kind. Poor Van (Christina Trevino), has no idea how she’s suddenly able to punch holes through the sidewalk and run as fast as a greyhound, let alone why these hairy creeps in leathers and contacts are after her. As luck would have it though, there’s another proto-wolf in the area too, handsome college student Chase (Cameron White) whose proximity to werebabes awakens his own latent werewoflism. It’s a dog’s life from then on in, with the two avoiding the growls of the bloodhound gang whilst coming to terms with their own burgeoning lycan-powers.
Fittingly, for a film hinged upon ideas of hybridity, Dark Moon Rising is a peculiar combination of several different elements. Part horror, part YA romance, it also affects the breakneck, ADHD pacing of anime, and, in fact, also features many stylistic features of that medium too: the emotive soundtrack, clouds that swell and break during battle, the adolescent hyperbole. But, unfortunately for a film with such rude promise, it also carries over the narrative looseness which characterises certain anime too. Dark Moon Rising lurches from one scene to the next with all the vulgar excitement of a dog chasing traffic. At one point, Eric Roberts (!) shows up, as a Whistler-from-Blade-esque wolf expert, drunk and damaged from his dances with wolves in ‘Nam (double !!). Roberts is always watchable, and he sure chews the scenery here with a Vietnam flashback (actually really well realised), before shooting a dog with a crossbow (for reasons not entirely clear). And then, immediately, we cut to night, where the bloodhound gang massacre a bunch of cops. Now, it has to be night when this happens, because the sky is black, and the red/blue lights of the cop cars (quite effectively) light the mist rising from the woods, but, suddenly, midway through the mayhem, it is broad daylight, and the butchered squad writhe bloodily in the sun! But before we can question the film’s temporality, it's night again, and Van makes a bunch of deer appear to an EDM soundtrack! It’s not a silver bullet this film needs, it’s a shot of Ritalin; a way of managing and orchestrating its many ideas and rabid energy, because, as it stands, Dark Moon Rising runs too close to incoherence, and at times feels like sitting down to a TV series where you’ve missed the first few episodes and are trying to play catch up.
The bonkers vitality of Dark Moon Rising may be enough to allow you to overlook these lapses, but, however, there is another inconsistency in Dark Moon Rising that is far more unpardonable: its depiction of werewolves. At some points ludicrously overpowered, at other moments easily taken out with a trifling crossbow; suddenly in possession of a venom blast, but rarely allowed to go full wolf (probably due to budget concerns, but still), this bunch may as well not be werewolves at all! Because, fatally, for all its everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach, Dark Moon Rising forgoes that vital quality that made all those classic werewolf films before it so memorable; namely, the human heart that beats beneath the bloody pelt of the beast. Not quite beware the moon, but Dark Moon Rising nonetheless stops just short of being something to truly howl about.




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