Saturday, September 24, 2011

In short: The Rift (1990)

aka Endless Descent

A new-fangled, experimental military sub, the "Siren", has disappeared in the depths of the ocean, all contact to it has been lost. The contractor company responsible for the sub brings its designer Wick Hayes (Jack Scalia), who had left them once it became clear his bosses were working for the military, back into the fold to take part in the rescue mission for the "Siren". They're quite convincing, too, for if Wick doesn't help the company they'll put all the blame for the submarine's accident on him, even though they changed the initial design so heavily the ship's not even using the same type of drive anymore. I suspect not even the patent office would buy that one, but then my name's not Wick.

Anyhow, to make the rescue mission as successful as possible, it is decided that the rescue submarine will be the "Siren II", of the exact same build and model as the disappeared ship (because why not take a gamble), commanded by tough Captain Phillips (R. Lee Ermey at his least shouty), and crewed by a random assortment of people of various nationalities (as you do when hunting top secret submarines), among them the obvious traitor (Ray Wise), the black "comic" relief character (John Toles-Bey), the Italian comic relief cook, and Hayes's ex-wife (Deborah Adair). Need I even mention that everybody on board has already been informed it's supposed to be Wick's fault that the "Siren I" disappeared?

Whatever can go wrong when the mission turns into a fight against a big underwater rubber monster, and later leads our heroes into a sub-oceanic cave full of a whole zoo of various other rubber monsters?

The Rift, a Spanish-US co-production, is veteran Spanish director of schlock Juan Piquer Simon's entry into the small late 80s/early 90s wave of kinda-sorta underwater Aliens-by-way-of-Abyss rip-offs. I suspect this specific sub-sub-genre came to pass when an exploitation film producer finally realized that there just wasn't room in space anymore for further Aliens-a-likes, and used all his power of creativity to think up the high concept of "Aliens under water".

Simon's film is actually one of the more entertaining entries into this not particularly awesome circle of films, mostly because it, while putting a check mark beside a lot of Aliens' plot points, has the feel of a type of slightly SF-nal horror movie that could have been made anytime between the 50s and the time of its own production. Sure, the 50s version would have been a bit less gory, and a few details would have been different (no evil government experiments in the 50s, but radiation problems), the basics however are still the same, and the audience still watches mostly to see some monsters.

Simon seems to realize this quite clearly, and does a nice, clean direction job of the pretty silly and flat script, without wasting much time on filler, characterization or any other stuff that doesn't have anything to do with showing us monsters doing monster stuff or charming submarine models.

The whole affair is a bit dumb, obviously, and scientifically dubious (there's even some reversing of polarity going on), but it's also unpretentious and fun, which is all I would ever ask of a film like it.


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