DARK CITY directed by Alex Proyas (USA, 1998)

The strangers in Dark Star

‘The Gentlemen’ from the classic ‘Hush’ episode of  Buffy The Vampire Slayer.

My favourite ever episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer is ‘Hush’ where a ghoulish group known as The Gentlemen invade Sunnyville and steal everyone’s voices so selected victims can’t scream as their hearts are cut out.

These scary figures look similar to the pallid hairless aliens known as ‘the strangers’ in Dark City and move the same way; floating rather than walking to seek out their prey.

This movie is a neo-noir fantasy sci-fi horror mystery by the director of The Crow. It shares the bleak underworld vibe of his earlier cult classic without the same killer soundtrack. It looks very stylish but lacks any real sense of menace – more like a weird dream than a horrific nightmare.

The ‘strangers’ are from a dead planet and in an attempt to keep their race alive they have relocated to Earth. Their ultimate goal is to find and capture the souls of humankind.To help fulfill this dastardly mission they employ the fidgety Dr Schreber (Kiefer Sutherland), a mad scientist working against his own kind for reasons that are never fully explained – what’s in in for him?

Schreber speaks English with stilted precision and is incapable of using contracted forms so will say things like “You do not know what you are doing”. Armed with a medieval style needle he extracts memories from people’s brains while they are asleep. This task is made easier because which at midnight everybody is rendered comatose by some fancy tuning device the aliens use (“Let the tuning commence”).

Our hero is John Murdoch (Rufus Sewell) who is immune from this process and, for good measure, possesses the same psychokinetic powers as the aliens. He has also lost some of his memories and wants them back. “I’m still me and I’m not a killer” he affirms in defiance of the strangers’ attempts to take over his head and frame him for a series of murders.

On his trail, until he sees who the true enemies are, is William Hurt who sleep walks through the part of the inelegantly named Inspector Frank Bumstead. Jennifer Connelly as Murdoch’s wife looks good but doesn’t really convince as a sultry nightclub singer.

The chief aliens who go through the menacing motions are Richard ‘Rocky Horror Show’ O’Brien as Hand and Ian Richardson is Book (names are not their strong point!). These speak with the formality of thespians in fancy dress :“We require a more practical link to his present whereabouts”.

All the messing with human headspace and shots of mutating cities looks in parts like a blueprint for Christopher Nolan’s Inception; albeit on a much smaller budget.

The aliens are ultimately foiled because their plan is fundamentally flawed; as Murdoch gleefully points out : “humanity is not in the head”. The implication of this is that the essence of mankind is not an intellectual concept but centred in the heart – maybe The Gentlemen in Sunnyville were on to something after all.

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