It is not hard to understand why H.P. Lovecraft’s eldritch horrors have inspired countless horror stories, movies, shows, and even games. For nearly 100 years, his descriptions of Elder Gods have scared genre aficionados, while the sheer scale of his creatures has left many in awe. At their best, movies such as Re-Animator successfully merge engaging characterizations with the foreboding atmosphere Lovecraft excelled at creating. At worst, drab, lifeless creatures are thrown on screen in hopes that simply showing them is enough to be entertaining; I’m looking at you Bleeders.
What these titles all have in common, is their attempt to capture the unknowable horrors that drive people to madness with varying success. However, what if the scale of the Elder Gods is intentionally scaled down to a literal human level? Tom Paton’s Black Site, released via Dread Presents, seeks to do just that while keeping the gothic horror atmosphere and frights. Is it successful?
Long ago, the Elder Gods found a way to slip between their dimension and ours. As such, governments all over Earth searched for a way to protect humanity from these colossal creatures. Since the Elders took over a human host, ostensibly to keep their strength up as their evolution isn’t exactly suited to our world, unnamed black sites were developed. At these secret locations, the humans are imprisoning Elder Gods and torture them until they give up names of more otherworldly beings hidden amongst humanity.
“…humans are imprisoning Elder Gods and torture them until they give up names of more otherworldly beings hidden amongst humanity.”
As a little girl, Ren (Samantha Schnitzler) had an encounter with Erebus, which left her mentally scarred. This means that despite her training, and legacy of father and grandfather, she is unable to pass the required exams to become one of the field agents to track them. However, the chance of a lifetime comes to her when Erebus (Kris Johnson) is captured and brought to the site she works at. However, the arrogant God has bigger plans than being trapped by beings he deems beneath him.
Soon a vicious, violent cult invades intending to free Erebus from his captors. Now, it is up to Danforth (Sophia Del Pizzo), an inexperienced but well-trained agent Ren, and a few other elite agents to prevent the horde of mad people from breaking the Elder Gods out and allowing them to wreak havoc.
The killer hook and set-up Black Site sports are ably supported by Paton’s assured directing. The long, storm cloud covered look at the enormous Erebus during Ren’s vision as a child is hauntingly atmospheric. The cinematography, by George Burt, favors bold colors throughout ensuring a beautiful, otherworldly look. The numerous hand to hand sequences are well edited and impressively choreographed.
“…Paton, for all his talents as a director, has written a frustratingly one-note script.”
Also helping the gorgeousness of the movie is the set and production design. When the cult comes busting through, the narrow corridors offer a refreshing visual bridge between the minimalist cell holding Erebus- which is brightly lit with high ceilings that seem to go on forever; seeming to suggest, despite the human host, the God needs a huge room to be held in- and the tactical positions taken outside by the agents. The titular locale is laid out in a way that allows the viewer always to know who is where.
However, and this a doozy of an issue, Paton, for all his talents as a director, has written a frustratingly one-note script. The dialogue is either quippy one-liners or endless exposition dumps that will bore the viewer to tears. Black Site runs a scant 91-minutes, but due to its poor pacing, as all the information is continually thrown at the audience during the first hour, it feels much longer. Once the big action scenes finally come, they are fun and impressively mounted. I am just not sure if the journey getting to them is worth it.
Really, this sentiment sums up Black Site perfectly. Paton is a fantastic visual stylish with a flair for action, but despite the efforts of a talented cast, the characters have little depth and spend so much expositing about this world that nothing happens for a while. Some viewers will love the visuals, the fight scenes, and the clever use of Lovecraftian Gods. Others, myself included, will ask ourselves, what exactly was the point of it all?
Black Site (2019) Directed by Tom Paton. Written by Tom Paton. Starring Sophia Del Pizzo, Samantha Schnitzler, Kris Johnson, Henry Douthwaite, Angela Dixon, Mike Beckingham.
4.5 out of 10 Eldritch Horrors