There is one thing that all great movies have in common. They take you in and make you forget that you’re watching a movie. With suspension of disbelief fully engaged, you forget yourself and immerse in the film until it ends, usually an hour and a half later. It is a testament to longer or epic movies that they are able to maintain this connection with the audience for an even longer period of time. “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” here serves as a prime example. Three and three-quarter hours is a hell of a long time to go without getting up, stretching, or using the restroom. Still, I have yet to hear one complaint about this film’s length, even from by most jaded and small bladdered friends.
If for no other reason, this suspension of disbelief demonstrates why technical professionalism is so crucial to filmmaking. While no one expects a low or no budget indie film to match the precision of $300 million productions, a certain level of quality and consistency must be upheld to maintain the illusion that is the movie. It is here that “Dark Spiral”, at times, comes up wanting. As case in point, during one crucial scene a boom mic wanders periodically into the frame. The filmmaker in me starts thinking how I would try to salvage the otherwise fine scene in postproduction, and immediately the illusion and thread of the movie is gone. Of course, you don’t have to be a filmmaker to notice and be distracted by such errors. Perhaps the general audience, less accustomed to deconstructing movies, would be more bothered as it is forced to begin this process. At any rate, mistakes such as the roaming microphone might not stand out quite as much if the overall quality of the audio were better. From the very start of “Dark Spiral” the dialog had a tinny quality often heard with the streaming audio of cheaper web sites. Though acceptable for the internet, such audio on a feature film serves as another obstacle for audiences to surpass in order to connect with this movie.
Sort of a comedic version of “The Usual Suspects”, “Dark Spiral” tells the story of a retired hit man, Johnny, and his lover, Joey. Always looking for a new drug-induced high, Johnny brings home a mysterious woman, Soupie, and indulges in her stash of an hallucinogenic concoction derived from the adrenal glands of dogs. As the perturbed Joey warns Johnny against getting stoned on such an important night, a friend of Soupie’s, Party Girl, arrives and consumes a huge amount of the strange new drug. Soon Party Girl goes into convulsions and dies just as the two long awaited representatives of Johnny’s old mob boss arrive. Matters come to an early climax as it turns out that Soupie and the two mob cronies are all undercover cops and they take the two lovers into custody. Many mini-climaxes ensue as none of these characters is exactly who he or she seems. All the while, the threat of the coming assassin, the Fakir, looms.
Parallels between the Fakir and Keyser Söze from “The Usual Suspects” are obvious and ultimately too strong. We are told the Fakir has accepted a contract to kill Johnny and Joey, but no one even knows what the Fakir looks like. Each character accuses the other of being this shadowy figure as they all slowly turn on each other leading to this movie’s conclusion and final plot twist. What works well with “The Usual Suspects is that you’re given enough information to guess who ultimately is Keyser Söze, but you probably didn’t. Likewise, a second watching of “The Sixth Sense” will probably leave you kicking yourself for not cottoning on the first time. Everything fits and all the clues are there, but they are so masterfully disguised that few people recognize them. In contrast, “Dark Spiral” will not elicit such a revelation. The discovery of the true identity of the Fakir lacks this subtle ingenuity and is simply incongruous with the rest of the plot. It is almost as if the writer had a basic idea of this movie but failed to thrash it out fully.
“Dark Spiral” touts itself as a dark comedy, but often it leaves you wondering what is meant to be funny and what just isn’t working. Granted, the idea of a gay hit man and his Mafioso male lover is different and inherently funny. However, something doesn’t sit well with this movie’s two love scenes. In both of them we see two people supposedly having sex, yet none of their clothes are removed or even pushed to the side to facilitate this act. If the idea is to provide “dry humping” humor then it would be a better fit for a “Naked Gun” sequel. If this is not the intension then a few close ups and other camera trickery could have carried off the desired illusion. At the end of the day, the effect of these scenes will probably leave you asking yourself, “I wonder if they meant to do that?”
A talented cast does their best to redeem this movie despite its weak script and technical flaws. Particularly impressive was Ricky Dean Logan in the role of Joey. Yet, despite these efforts, “Dark Spiral” fails to connect to its audience.