Saturday, October 24, 2015

The Hybrid (2014)

aka Scintilla

A mysterious corporation buys mercenary boss Powell (John Lynch) out of a rather nasty African prison. They have a mission for him and his former team (among its members are Ned Dennehy and Antonia Thomas): escort scientist Healy (Morjana Alaoui) to a secret research facility in a civil war-torn former Soviet state to retrieve research material and specimens. To make things a bit more interesting, a warlord and his army are sitting right above the underground complex, so the merry band will really have to come up with a plan, unless they wish to take on a force quite superior in numbers.

But even when and if our heroes will make it to the lab, the things awaiting them there just might be even worse than the bunch of crazy, heavily armed guys with a mean disposition they just avoided, for the science that has been going on down there is clearly of the mad persuasion, and the “specimens” they are to collect are that old mainstay of unsafe scientific practices, alien/human hybrids. So whatever could go wrong, right?

Despite having seen most of the bits and pieces the film is assembled from in other movies, I rather liked Billy O’Brien’s (of the fine Isolation and the decidedly less fine Ferocious Planet) horror/sf/merc movie Hybrid (see what I did there?).

This is one of those low budget movies that make a lot out of a handful of locations and a tight special effects budget, so much so that I hardly noticed this is basically another “running through corridors and some industrial ruins” movie – just with a bit of sunlight in the first act and the last few minutes – for O’Brien really puts the extra effort into decorating the place simply and effectively, making particularly good use of bright colours and bits of decaying Soviet chic that turn a cheap location and sets into places with a mood. More often than not, it’s even a consistently creepy mood.

The production is quite evocative as a whole, with many a clever little bit of production design or an acting decision turning the trite creepy or at least interesting: just look at the unnerving helmet shapes of the mad scientists’ protectors, and how they prefigure the really rather creepy eyes of our alien hybrids, the not-quite-there body language of the hybrids that again gives an effective impression of strangeness through simple means. These, by the way, are generally exactly the things the films I scorn as “boringly competent” never get right, whereas a film like Hybrid adds these small yet important bits and pieces to its generally competent air and acquires a personality and a mood through them, becoming a film very much worth watching in the process.

The actors are game, too – and are a well cast bunch of character actors to boot – which just might have something to do with the fact that most of their characters’ behaviours and motivations – though not too complex - actually make sense, and there’s no truly embarrassing dialogue to utter either; while not too complex, characters and plot never become too simple either.

All this might once again sound like I’m damning another film with faint praise. However, The Hybrid is a really fine example of the kind of low budget genre film that knows exactly what it and its audience want, what it can afford, and how to make something from there that’s engaging and very actively not stupid (except for the science, but you gotta give a film that, or you’ll end up as one of those people complaining for half an hour about “what film X got wrong about science” never realizing it’s not actually a film about science, or a documentary, or what it gets right about anything else). To my eyes, that’s quite an achievement.

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