31 Days of Halloween, abandoned bunkers, betrayal, Black Sun, Catherine Steadman, cinema, Clive Russell, co-writers, Daniel Caltagirone, David Gant, Dog Soldiers, film reviews, films, horror, horror films, horror franchises, Julian Wadham, Michael Byrne, Movies, Nazi hunters, Nazi zombies, Nazis, Nick Nevern, Outpost, Outpost: Black Sun, Philip Rosch, Rae Brunton, Richard Coyle, sequel, set in Eastern Europe, Steve Barker, writer-director, zombies
Despite really enjoying Steve Barker’s “Nazi zombies vs mercenaries” chiller, Outpost (2007), I was more than a little wary when I heard that he would be releasing a sequel some five years later (late?). While the original Outpost featured an open ending, I assumed this was just a de rigueur “downer” finale and wouldn’t necessarily translate to an actual sequel: silly me. As it turns out, Black Sun (2012) would be but the first sequel released: shortly afterword, a third film, Rise of the Spetsnaz (2013) would be announced. Suddenly, Barker’s modest little zombie/war hybrid went from a stand-alone film to a veritable franchise. Too much of a good thing? Alas, as far as Black Sun is concerned, the answer seems to be a resounding “yes”: what seemed fresh and genuinely spooky the first time around has been beaten into a pulpy mess that vaguely resembles a Syfy-channel take on Outpost. In other words, pretty much the last thing anyone was hoping to find.
Beginning pretty much right after the proceedings from the first film, Black Sun wastes no time in tossing us headfirst into the increasingly complex storyline. We learn that Hunt (Julian Wadham), the unfortunate bureaucrat from the first film, was actually working for a group of modern-day Nazis who seek to use the mysterious machine to raise an army of the living dead in order to take over the world: the 4th Reich, if you will. Chief among the Nazis is the elderly Klausener (David Gant), one of the engineers who originally built the machine and a close confident of the undead commandant from the original film.
Our protagonist this time around is Lena (Catherine Steadman), a Nazi hunter who has taken up the mantle from her father and has been tracking Klausener and his supporters for years. Tracking them to the same part of Eastern Europe where the original Outpost took place, Lena runs into an ex-boyfriend, Wallace (Richard Coyle), who appears to be some sort of shadowy mercenary-type. The pair quickly falls in with another paramilitary group, this time led by Macavoy (Daniel Caltagirone), and soon find themselves back at that old familiar bunker. After spending the first 50 minutes of the film running around the countryside, Black Sun finally decides to get us to the good stuff and heads into the claustrophobic bunker for another all-out fight between good and evil. One of the members of the group isn’t quite who he claims to be, however, and a stunning act of betrayal may doom them all to the same fate as the poor mercs from the original film.
For the most part, nearly everything about Black Sun is a lesser version of its predecessor: the effects aren’t as good, the acting is more over-the-top (in particular, Wadham’s return performance as Hunt is a real vein-popper and extremely tedious) and the whole thing devolves into the kind of generic action sequences that are used to pad the run-time of various direct-to-TV “epics.” The storyline becomes needlessly complicated, shooting for something resembling the epic world-building of Hellboy (2004) but on a poverty-row budget.
While Steadman isn’t terrible as Lena, I really wish I could say the same thing about poor Richard Coyle. Despite being a huge fan of his work in the British sitcom Coupling, as well as his utterly delightful performance in Grabbers (2012), I found Coyle’s performance in Black Sun to be off-putting, irritating and tonally inconsistent. I wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt, trust me (he’s easily one of my favorite character actors), but there’s nothing about his take on Wallace that notable for any of the right reasons. Steadman and Coyle have zero chemistry, which makes their backstory about being “passionate lovers” rather suspect: if anything, Wallace always seems like a suspicious asshole, rendering the “surprise” developments in his character pretty moot. Unlike the first film, where Ray Stevenson provided a ridiculously charismatic lead, neither Steadman nor Coyle have what it takes to rivet the audience’s attention.
The strangest thing about Black Sun’s failure is that the core creative team, director Barker and writer Rae Brunton, are back but the script is so much worse than the first film. Perhaps this can be chalked up to Barker sharing a co-writing credit with Brunton…perhaps the pair just realized they really didn’t have anything left to say on the subject. For whatever reason, however, Black Sun comes across as flat, needlessly silly and way too proud of mediocre action sequences for its own good: it’s like a formerly straight-A student bragging about scoring all Cs…it just doesn’t make sense.
Ultimately, despite wanting Black Sun to succeed, my earlier suspicions were right on the nose: rather than existing for any good reason, Black Sun seems to be just another sequel, attempting to replicate the original films successes without having a single new thought to get across. While there are plenty of good moments (some great) and pulpy thrills to be found in Black Sun, it’s such a huge step-down from the first film that I couldn’t help but be massively disappointed. Perhaps the third installment, Rise of the Spetsnaz, will correct the issues and get the ship sailing full-steam ahead. Unfortunately, my intuition tells me that one’s probably a stinker, too.