Studio: Uncork’d Entertainment
Director: Tom Woodruff Jr.
Writer: Brian Lubocki, Michael Hayes
Producer: Brian Lubocki, Michael Hayes
Stars: Tobias Jelinek, Danielle Chuchran, Kimberly Leemans, Eric Edwards, Simon Sorrells, Pele Kizy, Brionne Davis, Derrick L. McMillon, Kristin Minter, Harry Shum Jr., Jen Oda, Keely Alona
Demons living in disguise among humans find their existence threatened when they become unable to feed off the misery of mankind.
A young girl flees into the basement of a rundown Los Angeles apartment building. A large man corners her, but is chased away by a trenchcoat-wearing figure who morphs into a horned demon after the large man leaves.
A woman visits a fortuneteller. When one of the cards turns into shattered obsidian glass, the fortuneteller suddenly changes form and tears out the woman’s throat. She then dons a demonic version of Cerebro and a cacophony of disembodied voices is excited to learn that a new “interpreter of signs” has been heralded, until they discover that the card was black instead of blue.
Looking for someone named Dooley, previous demon Atum Vine visits the fortuneteller. Afterwards, he eavesdrops on a woman beating her husband with a metal pot while the large man from earlier resets his sights on the young girl. Vine next visits a trio of reptilian thugs and they cryptically discuss procuring sustenance of some sort before plotting murder behind Vine’s back.
A hooker spontaneously sprouts a tail. A woman beats her would-be runaway daughter. A dream sequence romanticizes a gunshot death for the wannabe child murderer from the opening. And Vine finally finds Dooley, albeit dead and with a small red feather as the only clue to his killer.
If you are somehow able to penetrate the fiction featured in the first 20 minutes of “Fire City: End of Days,” stop watching immediately and apply either for Mensa membership or some sort of elite think tank position at a rocket propulsion laboratory. The rest of us with mere mortal minds eventually learn that the movie’s true story is a somewhat straightforward one of a conflicted hero earning redemption. Yet the film chooses such a complex way of telling his tale that anyone would be forgiven for giving up before the end of act one.
Previously subtitled “The Interpreter of Signs,” and piggybacking on the 2013 short film “Fire City: King of Miseries,” “Fire City: End of Days” is a partially-crowdfunded dark fantasy noir directed by acclaimed creature creator Tom Woodruff, Jr. Noted for memorable makeup work on too many movies to mention, Woodruff is also one half of the founding team behind practical FX studio ADI. Woodruff’s partner Alec Gillis previously took the Kickstarter route with his directorial debut “Harbinger Down” (review here), and “End of Days” marks Woodruff’s employment of a similar strategy for his own first feature.
Obtuse introduction aside, “Fire City: End of Days” focuses on Vine, a demon bearing a passing resemblance to Hellboy in more ways than one. In this version of Los Angeles’ seedy underbelly, demons coexist in disguise among humans, and subsist on the misery of mankind in demon drug form. Vine is the dealer responsible for keeping his clan fed. So when the humans in their dilapidated tenement suddenly start leading strangely happy lives, the others turn to Vine for answers as to why they are going hungry, and why other demons are turning up dead.
“Fire City” is a terrific celebration of creative creature designs and the premise promises an intriguing blend of grim gumshoe mystery with horrific urban fantasy. Unfortunately, the dismal world where it all takes place is bathed in such perpetual bleakness that it is never a fun place to be.
Given the film’s themes and its underlying underworld of demon denizens, a certain level of darkness is essential. But “Fire City” is not just dark. It is depressing. Populated by demon drug dealers, sleazy prostitutes, and murderous mutants while featuring scenes that include repeated spousal abuse and attempted child rape, an hour and 40 minutes becomes an uncomfortably long time to spend confined almost entirely within one dank L.A. housing tower.
Virtually every character hates every other character, too. Excluding the hooker and her john, for the four core couples that do pair up there exists a scene where one person physically attacks his/her partner (or in Andre’s case, Jane’s daughter Sara).
The film could be stylish about its sadness. Instead, it is mired in so much misery that it has a hard time being enjoyable escapism. Does the epilogue really have to be based on another child abduction? “Fire City: End of Days” is like Clive Barker’s “Nightbreed” (review here) meets “Law & Order: SVU,” except gloomier.
On the plus side, the demon makeups are as well-crafted as one might expect from the talents of Woodruff and his team. There are the curious exceptions of Amber the demon hooker looking like a smashed mold from a rejected “Star Trek” design and Ford the pig demon looking like a simple Halloween mask, however. The latter’s obviously ADR-dubbed voice in particular stands out as a red thumb amongst otherwise outstanding beasties.
Tobias Jelenik, memorable from a minor role in “The Possession of Michael King” (review here), is also very good as Vine in human and demon forms. Jelenik’s frame and certainly his sandpaper voice both bring to mind a younger incarnation of Michael Wincott.
The film’s concept and ambition rate higher than the overall score reflected here. It is just so difficult to see through the dour tone and heavy spirit at the greater promise “Fire City” might have to offer.
With its depiction of demons as detoxing druggies suffering from withdrawal, and shots of unbuckled belts and open-hand slaps meeting the face of a child, “Fire City: End of Days” wants to confront challenging ideas and uncomfortable subject matter. But requiring Wellbutrin during and a suicide watch after is just not something desirable from monster fantasy entertainment.
Review Score: 55