Release Date: January 2, 2018
Director: Matt Mitchell
MPAA Rating: NR
Runtime: 140 Minutes
“We ripped a hole open… to God knows where…using science…and kept it open…blood”
I implore anyone who reads this review to really study this line of dialogue as if it were a newly discovered species. Prod at its stiff ambiguities; revel at its baffling rhythms; puzzle over the infinite implications that it conjures in the forefront of your mind. And finally, when you know this throwaway line as well as your own name and, without question, have given it more thought than the screenwriter that originally committed it to the page, ask yourself this simple question: is this parody or for real?
Now you understand my present dilemma because, even upon enduring the abysmal apocalyptic indolence of The Rizen for 140 incoherent minutes of dawdling about in underground corridors littered with feral mutants(?), I am still uncertain as to where director Matt Mitchell’s head was at behind the camera or if he can even make sense of the mess he made.
It’s rudimentary in its initial premise, following a survivor of some indistinct world-ending happening who navigates the labyrinthian corridors of what I took to be the basement of a military base and whose gradually recovering memory holds the revelatory answer to whatever is causing others to cover their faces in leather straps and viciously attack on site.
At the least this would have had a type of structure imposed onto its nonsense, but in a baffling display of genre ego, Mitchell expands this simple seed film into a thriving garden of frustrating absurdity, haphazardly tacking on subplots and details, all superfluous like the title’s “z” spelling, as he likes.
Even if The Rizen had its priorities in order and could accept its status as a simply below-average, stolid zombie film instead of the horrendous trainwreck it became from its misplaced ambitions, nearly every element on display in the film is working against understanding it, even on the most basic level.
For a film shot entirely in the confined location of concrete hallways below the surface, pre-production seemed to have skipped the logistics of sound recording in these echo-heavy environments. The majority of dialogue can’t actually be made out when the acoustics of these awful sets make every line that’s delivered sound like an indecipherable, whining echo.
Likewise, filling the film out with a flatly wooden set of cast members who don’t speak their lines as much as they mechanically recite them into the rebounding halls of this endlessly repeating set does not help. The Rizen could have been as tightly plotted and uncomplicated as a children’s picture book, and still details would get lost in translation.
The Rizen’s greatest sin, other than its pretensions to narrative depths that even it cannot begin to work out, is just how unapologetically boring watching it is. As story details flew past me, rebounding down these concrete corridors, I got stuck in a pattern of awkwardly staged and edited action, followed by a session of droning on about how little these characters know about their situation, followed by another pathetic struggle against the creatures(?), as my mind became less attentive the more incompetence is depicted.
If you recall that opening line and expected this film to take a turn into the entertaining badness that only incompetent cinema can provide, I apologize for misleading you because The Rizen’s obvious budgetary workarounds and incessant time-wasting are more sad than worthy of jeers.
I’m almost embarrassed to admit how easily I found myself lost in what is, on the surface, an undemanding zombie riff produced well past that trend’s expiration date. While its formal lapses actively make this problem worse, The Rizen fatally suffers because it proves itself incapable of relaying its cacophony of half-baked ideas for other movies into a focused, flowing narrative. It’s incomprehensible, not because it’s a struggle to pay attention to, but instead because the occasional plot point that does seep through is weak and overly familiar.