Pitch Black – Film Review

More sci-fi horror in Melbourne Lockdown Part 3! I watched this decently entertaining 2000 cult classic that launched Vin Diesel’s career.

Before he became the Fast and the Furious, Vin Diesel lent his gravel-voiced charisma to this small-budget flick, playing Riddick, a dangerous criminal transported onboard a spaceship along with a bunch of regular passengers. When space debris rupture the ship hull and kill the captain, docking pilot Carolyn Fry (Radha Mitchell) assumes the command and manages to crash land the ship on a nearby planet, though most of the crew and passengers die in the impact.

The planet appears to be a giant lifeless wasteland, with not one, not two, but three suns, which keep it in perpetual daylight. The remaining survivors, which include a shady law enforcement officer, a quirky merchant, a Muslim preacher with three young sons, an annoying teenager and a couple of prospectors, make a series of discoveries. Bad: Riddick has escaped soon after the crash. Good: they find an abandoned base with water supplies and a ship that they can repair. Very Bad: the planet is infested with vicious light-sensitive creatures, who dwell underground but come out to party during a total eclipse that plunges the world into impenetrable darkness. And wouldn’t you know, another total eclipse is imminent.

This leads to a series of predictable tensions and interpersonal conflicts where the group must learn to trust Riddick, who in addition to being the biggest toughest badass of the lot also has surgically enhanced eyes that allow him to see in the dark. And of course it’s a game of who-dies-next, as the survivors are picked and munched on one by one.

Visually Pitch Black feels dated in the way a lot of the late 90s/early 2000s movies do, with the flashy editing, angles and zooms that must have seemed oh-so cool and edgy twenty years ago but didn’t age so well. The earlier daylight scenes pile on the colour grading that made me think of someone who’s just discovered filters in Photoshop and couldn’t wait to use them all. While the acting is decent, most of the characters don’t rise above the stock sci-fi horror types who are mostly there to be the next alien snack, and some attempts at snappy one-liners are facepalm-worthy.

On the positive side, though the design of the alien critters is hardly original, the special effects hold up okay, helped no doubt by the minimal lighting. There are some genuinely suspenseful scenes as the group make their way through the total planet-wide darkness, armed with as many sources of light as they can scrounge. One of the survivors has a personal secret I definitely didn’t see coming, and though you can smell some sort of redemption story happening from a mile away, it doesn’t pan out quite in the way I expected.

Vin Diesel’s muscular anti-hero role may not demand much of him, but he is enormously watchable and entertaining, while Radha Mitchell makes an impression as a tough woman whose eventual character arc revolves around a fateful decision that she makes early on in the film. It’s a pity that she didn’t have a bigger movie career.

P.S. Maybe it was Radha Mitchell’s presence, but throughout the movie I was wondering if it was shot in Australia. I was right! Apparently it was filmed on location in Queensland and South Australia outback.

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