“The Devil’s Tomb” has a troupe of actors that would make any director’s mouth water. Despite his career trajectory of late Cuba Gooding Jr. is a considerable talent. Ron Perlman is a stalwart performer of cheeky machismo. Ray Winstone, a mannered force of nature whose filmography contains some real special turns. Add to the equation the unique look and stylings of Taryn Manning and a wordy but brief cameo by Bill Moseley and you have the makings of something formidable. Indeed with this cast “The Devil’s Tomb” would seem to have so many advantages that it could do no worse than to be adequate and have an outside shot of being truly sleeperific.
Cuba and his team of mercenaries are hired to fetch a doctor( Perlman) from a remote underground test facility in the middle of the desert. From the beginning it is apparent that their patron Dr. Elissa Cardell is being a bit dodgy about the nature of the action. Mostly undaunted the group decides to carry out the mission and slips into the subterranean research facility. Once inside things go from odd to severely fucked very quickly. The team’s medic (Manning) disappears while treating an ailing priest, one of the researchers (Moseley) shows up with a nasty demon up his ass and a crucifix carved on his torso to invite Cuba and his gang to the coming inferno. In the meantime new specters, these of the mirrors-of-your-greatest-weakness variety begin to appear to the other members of the team. Eventually Cardell comes clean and tells them that she has brought the soldiers here to ensure that the demons being kept in deep freeze are destroyed. Of course nobody who has entered is to be spared the demons’ fate because as we all know evil is contagious.
Bad, bad movie. Doubly bad because of all the advantages that director Jason Connery had going into the project. I know that everyone’s inner critic likes to hypothesize that given the same circumstances they could make a better film than (insert title here). In most cases this is either far-flung hyperbole or the murmurs of a complete film ignorant (of which I am occasionally one). With the Devil’s Tomb I will say this in all seriousness, there are many elements that if handed over to a knowledgeable novice could be done no worse than what has been offered here, provided the film-set had a video assist available.
This is because the lighting and shot selection is sub-CW network quality. Dimensionless shooting with no innovation is difficult to forgive when the story and character are good. Here, where both of those factors are middling the yield is embarrassingly low. If you can imagine a scenario where the 16 year old offspring of M. Night Shyamalan and Chloe Kardashian is given 15 million dollars, a script by Bruno Mattei and a group of Oscar capable actors to futz with, you might begin to find the ballpark that this movie plays in. Combine that with unrealized derivatives of “Resident Evil”, “Event Horizon”, “The Objective” and “The Bunker”, hamstring it with staggeringly uneven effects work and sequences that seem as if the aforementioned 16 year-old let his 8 year-old sibling cut the film and you have a movie that stinks through the screen.
The bright spots are minimal but in fairness there are a few things that should be mentioned. When the practical effects work they are pretty effective. In a similar vein when Cuba and Moseley and to a lesser degree Manning aren’t saddled with the worst lines imaginable they seem to be winning the fight by pulling some character from an emotionally blank script. Henry Rollins shows up…and is predictably bad. This is a positive because if he ever became a decent actor we might forget the greatness of Black Flag. Why does he play everything like an Energy drink addled 14 year-old who can’t decide who to punch first? Aside from a random act of nudity, the last positive I can think of is the mis-execution of actor generated seismic events. It would seem a simple task to coordinate the players throwing themselves against walls with the camera tilting wildly to and fro to simulate quake movements. They get it wrong so often here that you begin to wonder if the second unit director wasn’t off having a waz when someone called ‘action’.
Near the end of the first act Bill Moseley throws out a line so bad that even Doug Bradley couldn’t have made it play. “Together we will dine on the afterbirth of her new becoming.” After finishing “The Devil’s Tomb” I felt like I had gagged down the spent placenta of what might have been a beautiful baby. Making a bad movie without resources is an understandable outcome. Cooking up gruel from good ingredients is just an insult to the viewer, unless you make some effort to serve it with flare. No such effort is in evidence at any point in this film. Fetal Membrane sandwich, anyone?