director / script : J S Cardone
cinematography : Steven Bernstein
editing : Norman Buckley
music : Johnny Lee Schell, Tim Jones
lead actors : Kerr Smith, Brendan Fehr, Jonathan Schaech, Izabella Miko
Vampire shocker The Forsaken proudly announces itself as ‘a J S Cardone film,’ prompting most audiences to respond with a dismissive shrug of ‘J S who?’. He signals his confidence – and ego – by putting his ‘written directed by’ titlecard on screen just as a garage owner unveils a flashy vintage Mercedes in dreamy slow-motion. It’s a nice little visual coup, signalling the central role cars are going to play. And for about twenty minutes Cardone maintains his momentum, building up atmosphere with an attention to detail that suggests he may be capable of better in future. If, that is, he gets some help with his scripts – the wheels start falling off this particular wagon very early on.
After those striking opening titles, we’re introduced to Sean (Smith), a hard-up wannabe movie-editor heading to Florida for his sister’s wedding. Taking a job delivering the Merc to its wealthy owner, he’s sternly warned to avoid hitch-hikers. And For a brief spell, everything goes fine: he tears along through spectacular desert scenery with the top down and shades on, flirting with some sexy girls who draw alongside in their convertible before roaring off out of view, into a dip in the road.
Like Sean, we never see them reappear – but this could be because the Mercedes blows a puncture and skids off the road (from this point on, cars keep breaking down) forcing Sean to seek repairs in the nearest garage and thus spend a night in a local motel. The blowout recalls a similar moment of highway unease in Kubrick’s Lolita – speeding along a deserted blacktop, Lo tells Humbert the mileometer has clicked back to all zeroes: at that exact moment a tyre blows, and with it the couple’s good fortune.
Cardone shows a real skill at handling The Forsaken‘s equivalent bit, and performs similar wonders with Sean’s troubled night at the motel – falling asleep in front of an old TV western, he wakes to mysterious, bestial sounds coming through from the next cabin. The sequence is full of spooky little touches – images and sounds jaggedly edited to give innocuous elements an unnervingly macabre edge.
But, next morning, when Sean reluctantly agrees to give a ride to persistent hitch-hiker Nick (Fehr), things go rapidly downhill – for our hero, and for the audiences. Events spin out of Sean’s control – he ends up picking up a second passenger, zonked-out babe Megan (Miko), who turns out to be in the early stages of turning into a vampire. Like Nick – and like Sean himself, after he’s accidentally bitten by Megan. “Three days ago I had a phat job,” he whinges, “and now I’m gonna turn into a vampire unless I whack some freaked-out psycho.”
The psycho is charismatic bloodsucker Kit (Schaech), who must be killed on hallowed ground if Sean and co are to be rid of the ‘vampire virus’ which is “telegenetic” – expiring when its source is extinguished. This is only a tiny part of the cumbersome vampire lore dispensed by Nick, stretching back to the Crusades, when a demon struck a deal with eight defeated Christian knights, including Kit, who’s like something out of a bad Bon Jovi tribute band. The half-baked mythology and endless rules just get in the way, and Cardone would be advised to watch Jeepers Creepers, a more refreshingly straight-arrow road-horror which resisted the temptation to load us with too much detail.
Instead, The Forsaken rapidly bogs down into a tension-free hybrid of The Lost Boys, John Carpenter’s Vampires and Near Dark, as Cardone tries to compensate for his script’s deficiencies with a couple of gratuitously sadistic death scenes, and some increasingly desperate hyperactive camerawork. There are distinct hints of budgetary limitations as we lurch towards to an abrupt, hurried climax and a lame coda that’s clearly intended to lead into a sequel or, more likely, a TV spinoff.
It doesn’t help that Fehr is so off-puttingly rotten, his grungy know-all Nick rivalling Late Night Shopping‘s Luke de Wolfson for the title of this year’s most smugly smackable performance. Miko is also something of a pain in the neck, at least until Megan manages to regain the power of speech very late on – when she does finally talk, she turns out to be an unexpected combination of Boogie Nights co-stars Heather Graham and Julianne Moore. Dawson’s Creek Kerr Smith is a serviceable enough white-vested hero, but he should look at Schaech as a dire warning of what might lie ahead: up-and-comer one minute, the next a has-been who never really was.
18th September, 2001 (seen Sep-17-01, Showcase Stockton, UK)
by Neil Young
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