Note: Heavy spoilers for Alone in the Dark.
Box Office Most Wanted is a series dedicated to discussing some of the lowest grossing films of all time. The list of films can be found, and are ranked according to, the Box Office Mojo list of the “Worst Openings – Very Wide,” which is to say the lowest grossing opening weekends from films released in 2,000+ theaters domestically (U.S. and Canada).
Alone in the Dark
- Release Date – January 28, 2005
- Production Budget – $20 million
- Size of Release – 2,124 theaters
- Opening Weekend Box Office – $2,834,421
- Total Box Office – $5,178,569
- 27th lowest box office opening in a wide release ever
Oh, Uwe Boll, how majestic a creature thou art. Your movies are like nails on a chalkboard personified, and nobody will fund your next movie. You are cinema’s magical unicorn without the glossy finish or childlike wonderment. You punch out film critics. You’ve been petitioned against by people who want you to stop making movies altogether. You may be the most hated figure in the history of film. With all of this hate, I feel for you Mr. Boll. I really do. However, Alone in the Dark is on the list, and boy is it a doozy.
Alone in the Dark begins with a scrolling title screen. It also begins with a narrator reading verbatim the text that is scrolling on said title screen. You know, just in case you’d dozed off and didn’t know the movie had started.
The title crawl explains that an ancient Native American civilization known as the Abkani believed that Earth was divided into two worlds: the light and the dark. Apparently, these Abkani opened up a gate linking the two worlds, and evil slipped out of the darkness and into the light. The Abkani vanished, but miners discovered their remains in the 1960s.
All right, sounds like enough backstory. Looks like we can dive right into the film now…wait what, there’s more? I guess that’s fine. So a special branch of the government dedicated to paranormal investigations, Bureau 713, is working to uncover and understand these Abkani artifacts.
Got it. I am now ready to get in and get my hands dirty with this film…what’s this now? We’re still watching a title crawl? There’s seriously more?
Bureau 713 was headed by a man named Lionel Hudgens, but the government shut down his research when it was discovered that he had built a laboratory inside an abandoned mine where he tortured orphans with his experiments. His goal was to “merge man with creature,” and somehow these orphans survived even though the government shut down the research. They’re called “sleepers,” and I guess they have something to do with the Abkani…or the evil spirits from the dark world…or…wait what is this movie about?
The title crawl of this movie lasts a full minute and a half. And once it is over, you are left no closer to understanding what this movie is actually going to be about. The crawl has enough backstory within it to be a movie all on its own, and, who knows, it might have been a better movie.
Not to mention that the narrative of the movie begins in the middle of the chronology of the title crawl. We read (and hear) all about Lionel Hudgens’ downfall during the crawl, then we see the story of Hudgens play out in the first scene of the movie. So not only is the title crawl 90 seconds long, but it never needed to be that long in the first place, because the first scene of the movie establishes the experiments of Lionel Hudgens on its own.
Anyway, turns out this first scene is a nightmare of Edward Carnby’s (Christian Slater). Carnby is on a plane, and has an endearing introduction when he scares the wits out of a child by reaffirming the kid’s fear of the dark. The film then has to justify this in a voiceover in which Carnby explains why the dark is something to fear in order to be safe from the paranormal.
He then mentions that he was an orphan child and has no memory of his past, even though we just saw him have a nightmare about being an orphan child in the past. He also mentions that he is here to protect us, and I’m assuming that because it’s a voiceover he literally does mean us the audience. He certainly isn’t trying to protect the cab driver in the scene, because he’s so reluctant to tell the man what his job is. So don’t worry, everybody, Edward Carnby is going to make sure nothing bad happens to you in the dark. He’ll be there, while you’re sleeping, just waiting and watching. Waiting and watching.
We then become witness to a car chase and fight sequence surrounding the artifact Carnby is transporting. A random, nameless assailant is after the artifact, and it is here that we realize that being a paranormal investigator also means being a martial artist with a license to kill. Only, Carnby cannot kill his assailant, because when he shoots the man in the chest it does not faze him in the slightest. The location of the squib on this man is over the heart, yet he does not stop pursuing Carnby for an instant. If nothing else, it makes the assailant stronger. Carnby shoots him again through the chest (through the chest), and it does nothing.
12 minutes in, and we realize that Tara Reid is in this film, which means we’re in for a treat. She is introduced, and then a security guard explains the backstory of the Abkani…again. Seriously, why did we need that title crawl!?
Also, why is Hudgens not in prison? Wasn’t he caught torturing orphan children? He’s still allowed to hunt for Abkani artifacts and, you know, torture children if he wants to?
Hudgens is on a boat that is carrying a precious Abkani chest. When the captain of the boat double crosses him and opens the chest, a bunch of people who used to be orphan children turn into Manchurian Candidate-style robots. Except for Christian Slater, for some reason.
Also, they retroactively explain that the bullet immune assassin that attacked Carnby earlier in the film had supernatural powers given to him from the creatures who reside in the darkness. The same thing is happening to the Manchurian Candidates. This is fine, I guess, except that chronology of the chest being opened and releasing the darkness into the light world makes it impossible for Carnby’s would-be assassin to have those supernatural powers. Unless there were already creatures from the darkness inhabiting our side of the gate as the title crawl describes, but then what is the point of opening the chest? And what does this have to do with orphan children!?
We get the chance to see the heartfelt reunion of Carnby and Aline Cedric (Reid), two characters we didn’t know before this moment had a past. It is so touching, seeing Reid have to take a full beat while she decides just what emotion she is supposed to have when she rushes up to hug Slater, then seeing Reid take another full beat before punching Slater in the face. Every line delivery from Reid is priceless in this film, as are her facial expressions and her movements.
We next see the heartbreaking death of the lovable security guard character who we heard have two lines of expository dialogue prior to his death. Poor old Rob (I think) gets his head caved in and speared through by a darkness creature thing that looks like a Z-grade Giger creation.
Let’s recap. This movie has a sadistic professor, orphan super soldiers, and camouflaging xenomorph knockoffs (they’re called Zenoes). And Stephen Dorff. He…does stuff. He’s not that important.
So we finally get some answers to what is going on, all at once in a scene where an autopsy specialist is a talking exposition machine. Hudgens put in the orphans’ spines something that makes them kind of sort of like the Zenoes. After this, I didn’t care to pay much attention to the “science” of it, which didn’t matter because the next scene started with a voiceover in which Christian Slater explained everything we’d just learned (and other things we already knew) again. Either the movie is assuming we’re dumb or that we’re not paying attention. It might be right on at least one account.
A sex scene between Slater and Reid ensues out of nowhere. It is neither here nor there, but the song that plays in the background is kind of crazy. From what I gather, it starts by talking about a child being born (already pretty weird lyrics to be backing an erotic scene), but the lyrics simply make no sense. Here are some of them:
And when a child is born into this world / it has no concept of the tone the skin is living in / it’s not a second / seven seconds away / just as long as I stay / I’ll be waiting
I mean, what?
The sex scene is also unbearably awkward. Most of it is shot in such high contrast that it is mostly black, but I have a feeling that was done to hide the fact that neither actor is really invested in their roles at this point. Slater is putting his face near Reid’s body, but he’s not doing anything remotely sexual. He’s just kind of moving his face around so it looks like he’s doing something. You can almost feel the pressure of both actors’ lips being tightly pursed throughout the entire shooting process of the scene.
After the sex scene, our heroes start mindlessly slaughtering the orphan zombies and zenomorphs in a fight scene that lacks any choreography, because it is all set to a strobe light.
Most of the movie from this point forward is comprised of bad fight sequences or characters preparing for bad fight sequences. Characters are introduced, we are supposed to feel bad when they inevitably die, but it is impossible when we never really learn their names.
Finally, the characters uncover the real truth behind Bureau 713, an hour and twenty minutes after the audience learned about it in the opening seconds of the movie. I know I keep harping about this title crawl, but the movie could have honestly ended right after it, given the sheer amount of information it provides to the audience. It’s as if the first two minutes of the movie needs a spoiler warning attached to it.
Hudgens interrupts our heroes. He is quickly slain, but not before he unlocks the door to the dark world. Even though I thought the chest on the ship opened that door, because zombies and Zenoes have been rampaging for the past 45 minutes of screentime. Either way, Stephen Dorff blows the Zenoes to kingdom come, and the movie ends. I mean, it doesn’t end there, but as far as I’m concerned the movie is over. It makes absolutely no sense while also somehow being completely redundant, so a denouement has no impact on me.
Alone in the Dark ended up only grossing a quarter of its production budget back at the domestic box office. It is currently ranked 31 on the list of video game movie box office grosses, a list that is only comprised of 38 movies. Near Alone in the Dark on this list are entries for In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale (an Uwe Boll production), Bloodrayne (an Uwe Boll production), House of the Dead (an Uwe Boll production), and Postman Pat: The Movie (unfortunately not an Uwe Boll production). The man likes his video game adaptations.
The film has a Metascore of 9 and a Rotten Tomatoes percentage of 1% based on 117 reviews. It is a universally reviled film, and for good reason. The script is heavy handed, yet the story itself is overly convoluted. The acting is pretty pitiful. The action and horror elements fail to be both active and horrifying. Alone in the Dark is Alien without the keen grasp on tension, the badass protagonist, or the claustrophobic fear.
In the end, Alone in the Dark is: Unwatchable
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—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)