Studio: Gravitas Ventures
Director: Patricio Valladares
Writer: Barry Keating, Milan Konjevic
Producer: Loris Curci, Silvester Yordanov
Stars: Jason London, Robert Englund, Gianni Capaldi, Lorina Kamburova, Diana Lyubenova
A retired cop still troubled by his wife’s death encounters new nightmares when he becomes the security guard for a haunted Bulgarian building.
Add a grizzled beard and an alcohol problem and Brett Anderson could be the complete retired cop cliché. Haunted by the double whammy of his wife’s suicide and his LAPD partner’s murder, Brett has sought solace in the solitude of Bulgaria’s backwoods because, well, it’s less expensive to shoot a movie in Eastern Europe than in Los Angeles.
Over a can of beer, not enough to qualify for the aforementioned addiction, Brett’s buddy Alex convinces him that a change of scenery might be best for his wellbeing. So Alex makes a move to the capital city of Sofia to take a resident security guard gig at a creepily cavernous old building seemingly spawned from unholy coitus between The Bramford and The Overlook.
Brett isn’t told much about the job. His brief orientation only includes information that middle manager Martin deems important for an audience to remember for later. A close-up of a security camera provides the first clue. Another close-up on a key accompanies Martin’s instruction that the elevator won’t work without it. The only warning Martin makes clearer is his repeated insistence to stay far away from a tall door carved with ominous markings straight out of H.P. Lovecraft’s darkest dreams. Martin may not understand exactly what is going on, but we’ve got our Chekhov’s checklist of camera, key, and door foretelling all of the obvious beats coming in the climax.
Introductions aren’t settled yet. Brett needs caffeine and the movie needs a love interest. Both birds are killed with one shoehorn when Brett comes across barista Zara in a meet cute mandating just one remark about ‘sh*t’ American coffee for the couple to be well on their way to romance. You can’t even hear Zara’s passionate moans over the crack of the sound barrier breaking from their relationship speedily progressing to sex.
Repeatedly waking from nightmares involving a pair of ghostly twin sisters reminds us that “The Shining” is a better movie we’d rather be watching, and that Brett still doesn’t know what’s behind the door in the basement. Enter Robert Englund as blind building consultant Jacob, a.k.a. ‘Old Man Exposition.’
While viewers weigh which is more unconvincing, Englund’s inconsistently applied yet consistently poor accent or overacted head turns overselling blindness, Brett weighs where Jacob ranks on the list of untrustworthy contacts who refer to the building in cryptic riddles. Brett eventually forces fingers down Jacob’s throat for a mouthful monologue explaining everything in anticipation of the film’s final act. Until that spark finally reaches the TNT, “Nightworld” occupies its space with a maddeningly slow burn stingily advancing its mystery in millimeter increments.
This classic case of mediocre moviemaking with a TV thriller temperature puts the ‘l’ and the ‘n’ in ‘bad’ for a film more bland than outright awful. “Nightworld” can’t help but be backed into a corner by its “been there, done that, blah blah blah” premise. Sadly, it has no hope of fighting its way out when punches are no more powerful than Jason London looking perpetually perplexed while skulking in shadows or cheap audio sting scares that sound like the composer smashing his palm on piano keys.
A lick of Lucio Fulci lends a little occult eeriness to the latter half’s fiction, though that’s a too little, too late influence on otherwise colorless atmosphere. It’s not that “Nightworld’s” tale about its titular realm lacks suitably sinister intrigue involving the living dead, afterlife gateways, or centuries-old secrets. It’s that this tepid template for terror has been copied so often, associated imagery and ideas are neither sharp nor scary, not to mention no longer capable of engaging invested imaginations.
Haunted/cursed buildings are already a limited concept for horror. Construct yet another one out of beige characters brought barely to life by uneven acting, as well as a script stealing materials from previously erected fright films, and you end up with “Nightworld:” a movie with a modestly interesting exterior whose empty insides look like every other neighbor on its block.
Review Score: 45