Dark City

Memphis Flyer

DIRECTED BY: Alex Proyas

REVIEWED: 03-09-98

The teenage leader of a vampire cult in Kentucky was just sentenced to die. He must be kicking himself right now. If only he hadn’t participated in sex rites, mutilated animals, drank human blood, and instructed one of his followers to kill her parents, he’d be doing what all his other Goth friends are doing: scrimping on black eyeliner to save for tickets to Dark City, director Alex Proyas’ follow-up to The Crow.

Like The Crow, Dark City, as the title suggests, is cloaked in black and peddles in paranoia. At the heart of the story is John Murdoch (Rufus Sewell). His nemeses are the Strangers, a clan of chalky white, bald men who favor bowlers and black overcoats and who, in search of a means to sustain their dying group, practice mind control on unwitting humans through what they call tubing. Tubing works something like this: At the stroke of midnight, the Strangers stop time and chatter their teeth in front of a large clock, while a certain number of them hit the streets, where they swap peoples’ memories through a large syringe and then mix and match at will. So, as in one scene, the Strangers enter the ratty apartment of a low-wage couple who are complaining about the hard knocks of manual labor and with a wave of hand, put them to sleep. When the couple wake up, they find themselves in a luxurious manse, completely unaware of the change.

Murdoch, however, is not so lucky. When he comes to, he has almost no memory at all, just flashes of a dark-haired woman and a beach resort. Further, he’s a suspect in a series of call-girl murders. On his trail are Detective Bumstead (William Hurt), the torch-song-singing wife he doesn’t remember named Emma (Jennifer Connelly), and one Dr. Scheber (Sutherland), a friend of the Strangers who is having second thoughts about his alliance. Murdoch does have one thing going for him – he can tube just like the Strangers.

Keifer Sutherland surrounded by Strangers in Dark City.

Proyas’ film is inky, as if coming straight from the pages of a comic book. He faithfully builds the mood through the set design of gray, looming buildings, the score whose chief instrument is a violin, and, of course, the characters. Sewell, with his round eyes, high cheekbones, and dark curls that fall on his forehead, is a figure cut straight from pulp stock, and as he dashes around the dark city (the Strangers don’t like light), he is often cornered by the camera, blocked as if in a panel. The dame is appropriately curvy, but Connelly can’t really pull off sultry. The rube, Sutherland, is a hunched, gasping figure, worked over by the Strangers, who themselves possess a vulnerability that drives them to perform their inhuman experiments. As the straight man, Hurt just seems very uncomfortable.

Proyas is very effective in getting his vision to translate to film. Maybe too effective, as I started feeling rather drowsy myself when the Strangers came to call on their subjects. But this is a film for a specific target audience – Marilyn Manson fans and vampire killers.

--Susan Ellis

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