Black Site


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Black Site
"The fascinating thing about Tom Paton's Black Site is that, against all odds, it works." | Photo: courtesy of Epic Pictures

Every now and again one comes across a film that is clearly based on somebody's dream or somebody's role playing game. Combine this with a very low budget, limited special effects, a set that is basically just a storage facility and multiple references to the work of HP Lovecraft and the result is usually unwatchable. The fascinating thing about Tom Paton's Black Site is that, against all odds, it works. The cast can act. The score is a pulsating Eighties-style delight. And with a tagline like 'all gods must be deported', one knows it isn't taking itself too seriously.

The premise is this: the Elder Gods, having grown weak in their own dimension, have returned to Earth to inhabit the bodies of humans and feed on their energy, gradually recovering their powers. Since the early 1940s a secretive agency has been hunting them down, trapping them with a mixture of modern technology and ancient magic, and sending them back to their own dimension. Now it has captured one of the most powerful of them all, the entity known as Erebus (whom the Ancient Greeks associated with shadows and malignancy). It needs to hold him at the titular black site until a specially trained operative who has memorised a crucial fragment of forbidden text can reach him, say the words and do the deed. But a band of cultists is plotting to attack the site, and Erebus has plans of his own.

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If you've read much Lovecraft - indeed, if you've read much - you're liable to find the concept of Elder Gods taking a persistent interest in humans laughable. A lot rests on the shoulders of Kris Johnson, who strains to give Erebus proper dignity and weight as he deigns to speak to the mortals around him, calling them 'specks of dust' and trying not to sound like 12-year-old internet troll with delusions of grandeur. It was never going to be easy to convey the vast and otherworldly armed only with a floppy haircut, a grimace and a resentful stare, and in the circumstances he doesn't do a bad job. Up against him, but oddly conflicted, is Samantha Schnitzler as Ren, a young woman who blames him for the death of her parents, and the conviction with which she carries this role elevates the film; she's somebody the audience can believe in no matter how silly things get.

Charged with looking after the special operative, a man in a magnolia-coloured v-neck sweater whom everyone agrees is one of the most boring people they've ever met, Ren proves herself a skilled fighter in violent (but never really bloody) action scenes. She's as quick to cut down any possible romantic subplot and what sympathy there is between the two emerges as welcome comic relief, though the film has sufficient dignity never to laugh at itself in an apologetic way. The plot is surprisingly coherent and there are some nice touches along the way - for instance runes that prevent combustion on the site, thus protecting everyone from explosions and gunfire and ensuring we get plenty of more entertaining hand to hand combat, also mean that there's no heating system and nobody can light a cigarette. This kind of detail suggests that the writers have properly thought things through, and it's something many bigger budget genre films could benefit from.

With solid supporting performances thrown into the mix - including one by Lauren Ashley Carter, so good in 2017's Imitation Girl - there's a lot to like here. Not everybody will be up for suspending disbelief to the extent required, and some may get understandably impatient with the old genre standby of running round the corridors, but Black Site is a hell of a lot better than anyone could have expected and it marks out Paton - still only 26 - as one to watch.

Reviewed on: 06 Apr 2019
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Black Site packshot
The Elder Gods have returned to Earth in human form and a special agency is charged with deporting them.

Director: Tom Paton

Writer: Tom Paton

Starring: Samantha Schnitzler, Kris Johnson, Bentley Kalu, Henry Douthwaite, Sophia Del Pizzo, Angela Dixon, Phoebe Robinson-Galvin, Lauren Ashley Carter

Year: 2018

Runtime: 91 minutes

Country: UK


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