Monday, July 3, 2017

Blast from the Past Movie Review: Split Second (1992)

I was born in 1984 and grew up in the age of video stores, but my parents tended to be rather conservative about what they'd let me watch. The movie Split Second, starring Rutger Hauer, has the look of a movie I would have seen in the store when I was in elementary school but not been allowed to watch.

(Given how old I was I can't really fault Mom and Dad.)

I saw part of it on television a long time ago and recently saw it available for rent at Videodrome, Atlanta's last remaining video rental store.

So I decided to watch it. Here goes...

The Plot

Global warming has caused sea levels to rise, flooding London bit by bit. In this decaying city, a mysterious killer has been stalking the city for years, at one point killing police officer Foster and scarring his partner Harley Stone (Rutger Hauer). Hauer has become Ahab-like in his pursuit of the killer, prompting his superior to assign the intellectual Dick Durkin (Neil Duncan) to manage him. The two men continue their pursuit of the killer alongside Michelle (Kim Cattrall), Foster's widow who apparently had a relationship with Stone.

But the killer has become fixated on Stone and may not be human...

The Good

*The movie was made in 1992 but takes place in London in 2008. The issue of global warming causing rising sea levels is still a timely one, plus a flooded London makes a good set-piece. Science fiction author Kim Stanley Robinson has a new novel out set in a partially-flooded New York that reminds me a lot of Venice, but since London has the River Thames running through it and is if I remember right built on fairly low ground, it seems like a city that could be threatened by rising sea levels as well.

(Plus rising water would force rats out of their burrows and sewers, which would explain why rats are everywhere in the film.)

There's also a low-level cyberpunk vibe in the scene where Stone forces his way into a nightclub to hunt the killer.

*The film is pretty well-paced and is never dull.

*There are character arcs--Stone becomes more stable and functional as he comes closer and closer to fulfilling his quest to get his partner's killer, while Durkin becomes more and more manic and crazy as he realizes they're dealing with a monster.

*The film uses the Jaws principle of showing the monster as little as possible. A clawed hand here, a towering shadow there, etc. We don't see it full-on until the climactic battle in a flooded, abandoned subway station, and even then not in its entirety. Here're some production photos from the film if you want to get a better look at it.

*Durkin is annoying at first, but after the morgue scene, he gets funnier and funnier. Bigger and bigger guns. :)

*Stone's caffeine addiction is pretty funny. Also, although there is a "as you know Bob" bit for his new partner, many of his traits--the caffeine addiction, the jumpiness and recklessness, his disregard for his colleagues, etc.--are shown, not told. He is such a loose-cannon jackass that we get into serious anti-hero territory.

*It's a film set in Britain and has a whole lot of British actors, as opposed to having Americans playing foreigners. Pete Postlethwaite plays another Officer Paulsen, with whom Stone doesn't get along, while Stone's commanding officer is played by Alun Armstrong--I thought he was Doug Bradley (best-known for playing Pinhead in the Hellraiser films) at first.

*There's some good foreshadowing that the killer isn't human earlier on.

*I like how the flashbacks to the death of Stone's partner are shot--they're not fully black-and-white, but they're not in full color either.

*In one scene, the monster uses a stolen police shotgun. I've never seen a movie monster with plenty of natural weaponry using human weaponry before, so that's pretty creative.

The Bad

*In the beginning when a character is attacked in a nightclub bathroom, it seems like there's a missing scene--we see a character frightened in the bathroom and then see her dead, but there's no connecting scene where the monster appears in the first place. There'd be no need to show the monster much--just see her washing her hands or something, then start the ominous music and have some movement, she turns around, and then the movie goes as normal.

*The exact nature of the killer is never explained. Durkin uses astrological signs to track its movements and activities and theorizes it might be a demon. It absorbs the DNA of its victims. The DVD cover reveals it's clearly not human. It seems to know enough English to leave taunting messages in blood and knows how to use Michelle to mess with Stone. Some kind of environmental-apocalypse mutant with human-level intelligence, a working knowledge of astrology, and obsessive serial killer tendencies? Which forms a psychic connection with anybody it wounds but does not kill?

(TVTropes theorizes they'd changed the villain from a human serial killer to essentially a skinny B-grade Xenomorph later in the production--the killer at one point has a refrigerated heart delivered to the police station, for example.)

*Stone has been suspended, but his boss Thrasher puts him back on active duty after watching him antagonize his new partner and admit he's carrying a significant number of non-regulation firearms and after flat-out calling him a menace to society. Stone later recklessly shoots off his gun and physically throws other officers around. Maybe post-apocalyptic London is hard-up for police and the standards are lower, but one wonders why he's even still allowed to be a cop. Thrasher is later shown to simply be unable to control Stone and even Durkin, so perhaps he's just weak.

*Durkin spouts a lot of psychobabble about the killer being psychotic, a psychopath, or both, but knowing what I do about abnormal psychology, it's clear he has no idea what he's talking about. The character is supposed to be a mental-health professional of some sort, but the writer clearly hasn't done enough research.

*Michelle and Stone's relationship needs more exposition other than Paulsen ranting at him and Thrasher explaining to Durkin the drama he's getting into.

*Michelle has a completely gratuitous shower scene while staying over at Stone's apartment, all while the monster somehow gets into the apartment without making enough noise to alert her. It's silly.

*In the flashback, Foster is dragged underwater and Stone doesn't seem to react at at all. It's like he thinks it's all a prank.

*A character is shot with a shotgun and tumbles out a second-story or higher window, but shows up perfectly fine later. He attributes his survival to a bulletproof vest, but the fall out the window should bang him up at least.

The Verdict

Entertaining, but it doesn't really make a lot of sense. 7.5 out of 10.

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