March 29, 2019 The Dark Military (Movie Review)
Ever seen 1987’s The Running Man? Or 2002’s Battle Royale? Perhaps even 2007’s The Condemned and its 2015 sequel? Loren W. Lepre (Pennsylvania Hardcore 2014, Death House 2018) might have, as his feature-length film debut as writer and director, The Dark Military, shares a few similarities. Available on Blu-ray through Scream Team Releasing, and set for release in select theaters April 4th, produced by Lepre’s Average Superstar Films company, alongside Backseat Conceptions, it makes its own thing out of those films’ elements. Only, instead of it being part of a game-show, or a government order, it involves the internet.
Making a run on the film festival circuit, the titular Dark Military are a rogue army unit that broadcast their dirty deeds to the Dark Web, and they plan to bring fear back to Halloween. Live on webcast, they will introduce a gang of (un)lucky contestants to their own real-life survival horror game. Laine (Cabrina Collesides: Fight Valley 2016, Worthless 2017), Roman (Lamar Bumbrey: La Méduse Rouge 2013, Sickness 2017), Dean (John Woods: Star Wars: Precious Cargo 2015, The Arc 2016) and more must do whatever they can to survive. With no phones or weapons, can they last until the authorities arrive? Or will online junkies get to see them die on cam before then?
This is without mentioning some other notable cast members. R. Marcos Taylor (Straight Outta Compton 2015, Baby Driver 2017) gets the biggest bill as the Chief of Police trying to track the group down. While Alex Vincent (Child’s Play series) and Sharon Smyth-Lentz (Dark Shadows series) make cameo appearances too. Even Lepre himself appears as the Dark Military’s leader Barabbas. As an actor, his performance is not so hot. He can be intimidating, but he comes off more like a pro-wrestling heel than a mercenary. Considering his earliest credits involve being the ‘Infamous Sabu Fan’ at 1990’s ECW events, that might not be far off the mark.
He comes off better than most of the other performances though. They run the gamut from cheesy, like Gina Marie Scholl (The Grievance Group 2014, The Listing 2017) as Jezebel, to wooden like almost everyone else. Taylor turns in the best effort of the bunch, though Collesides and Bumbrey do a fair job with their roles. Not that the script gives them a lot as it is the Dark Military’s show to run. The dialogue is rather clunky, though it does weave in a few funny jokes. It even gets meta in parts a la 1996’s Scream. It is not as good as that film, but it adds flavor.
If anything, being entertaining can make an audience forgive many faults. The editing is shaky, making odd decisions like characters having “flash forwards” than flashbacks. The sound mixing is noticeably askew too, with lines either coming in too quietly or so loud they come out distorted. Seeing a masked man and his crew take umbrage with being accused of cheating, calling the accuser a “vagina-head?” That could make it worthwhile. Gross-outs, gore, groping and goofs worked for Troma, so maybe it could work here too.
Or at least it would have if the camera did not cut away from the gore. What is there is done to a fair level – slit throats, blood splatters, etc. Maybe its estimated $250,000 budget could only cover so much, but anything more gratuitous is handled out of sight. The Dark Military could be crushing someone, or they could be stomping on something just beside the camera with after-effects pasted on. Audiences looking for gore are not going to find much to satisfy them here.
Still, there are some things to commend the film on beyond the gags. The visual effects look nice, from the Military’s logo to the live-stream interface. There are even some screen glitches to give it that internet video effect… or VHS effect despite being a digital video. The sound design even picks up a bit and adds some tension to the scenes. The pacing is okay too, as audiences are not waiting too long between action sequences. Granted, the action itself is a mixed bag at best, but it does not drag things out.
So, is The Dark Military worth some sub-par acting, rough camera, off sound, and dodgy dialogue? Not really. The entertainment factor does not outweigh its faults. It does not have Troma’s charm, Battle Royale’s depth, or The Running Man’s cheesy appeal. Although, it may offer blood, boobs, and banter, but there are better options out there for all three. As such, Cryptic Rock gives The Dark Military 2 out of 5 stars.