Rating 2

Directed by Rigoberto Castañeda

Written by Ed Dougherty

Starring Amber Tamblyn, Aiden Gillen, Armie Hammer, Katie Stuart, Kate Jennings Grant, Emma Prescott, Andrew Tarbet and Mabel Rivera

Three strangers, all in a hurry and all apparently harbouring a secret, find themselves trapped in an elevator in an otherwise empty building. As the hours pass by tensions bubble to the surface and the true nature of the three people slowly emerges.


I had been looking forward to watching ‘Blackout’, in spite of the fact that the tiny-budget indie film had clearly died a death before ever getting a release and I have only ever seen one proper review of it. The main draw for me is that I have a lot of time for Amber Tamblyn, who has never been less than excellent in everything I have seen her in, and this was the follow-up film by the Mexican director Rigoberto Castañeda to ‘KM31’, a film not without its flaws that was nonetheless an interesting and diverting mix of Latin folklore and J-Horror influences.

Sadly, it proves to be something of a disappointment. Castañeda doesn’t tell the story particularly well and gets bogged down in unimpressive flashy editing that adds nothing to the story and is simply annoying from the start. This is a common blight that affects the American horror genre and although ‘Blackout’ is clearly not a horror film, that is how it has been promoted.

The set-up is not original by any stretch of the imagination, but while I am not expecting Castañeda to serve up Hitchcockian levels of suspense and filmmaking expertise it could have been much better than this. I would argue that longer should have been spent introducing us to the three main characters before they end up trapped in the elevator. We get a cursory look at them, but the characterisation is sketchy and clichéd. The claustrophobia of the main setting, the confined space they are trapped in, might have been used to better effect than it is here, but once again that would require stronger characterisation. It is not the setting as such that makes the impact, but the reaction of the various characters to it. The unfolding story of each of them really needed more substance and would have been better served had their stories been told without the irritating and off-putting editing and camerawork, which just annoys and deflects attention away from what we should be concentrating on. In the end, though, what is perhaps most disappointing is that it is blatantly obvious right from the start where the story is heading, which kills the suspense that should have kept the film interesting. These are three people going to hell in a bucket (or, in this case, an elevator), but the journey surely could have been less monotonous than this.

‘Blackout’ does have a few bright spots and occasional touches that suggest what might have been achieved with a slightly different approach and a stronger hand at the helm (but see my note below). The actors are okay, Tamblyn in particular. I didn’t entirely dislike the film, but it really could and should have been a whole lot better. Its short running time, barely 72 minutes, excluding the end credits, for the version I saw, means it doesn’t outstay its welcome, but it also indicates how flimsy it is.

‘Blackout’ was filmed in Barcelona, although this is not relevant to the story and apart from the architecture of the building that houses the elevator it would otherwise seem to be an anonymous American city setting (It’s an English-language film). It was given an “R” rating in the U.S., which is the kiss of death for a film like this, given the wholly stymied nature of American cinema these days. If the entry at IMDb is to be believed, the version of the film released in Germany and the European film market has a running time of 120 minutes. If that is true, it might go some way towards explaining my disappointment at what appears on the surface to be a very threadbare enterprise and suggests that Castañeda’s original film has been butchered.

The British filmmaker Asif Kapedia recently commented that making ‘The Return’ had been a real eye opener for him because having been hired to make the film he immediately became embroiled in Hollywood politics and was quickly pushed to one side in the creative process, leading to a film that bore little relation to his original vision. Perhaps Castañeda has suffered a similar fate.

By the by, I think the opening credits of ‘Blackout’ are appalling and this is something that usually does not bother me too much one way or the other.

Review posted 27 March 2009


No comments: