A genre thriller without much of a bite, Rise: Blood Hunter is nevertheless a well-mounted affair with a sense of humour and a solid starring turn by Lucy Liu as a woman who finds herself among the living dead.
Premiered at Tribeca recently and opening domestically on June 1, the film should be a modest theatrical performer based on its vampire-movie genre and cool cast, but its biggest audience will be in ancillary markets. It has a rich destiny being programmed in midnight movie slots and at Halloween.
Writer/director Gutierrez has a history of attracting name talent. His first feature, Judas Kiss (1998), had an eccentric cast including Emma Thompson, Alan Rickman and Til Schweiger. Here he again assembles an intriguing ensemble that includes Michael Chiklis, Mako, Robert Forster and music stars Nick Lachey (the former Mr Jessica Simpson) and Marilyn Manson.
He's also enticed ace cinematographer John Toll to give his vampire saga a richly dark visual palette which far exceeds the quality of the material. The netherworld and night-time haunts of Los Angeles have never felt so sterile and creepy.
Sadly the screenplay lets him down, and at times the drama is not much more compelling than an episode of moody TV like CSI. Although he sets the film up in a partial flashback structure, the suspense here is minimal as La Liu goes on a rampage with a stake to revenge the bloodsuckers who turned her, picking them off one by one until a final confrontation with the biggest bad guy - a Brit, of course - who is just plain bad without being particularly ingenious.
The film was produced by Sam Raimi and Rob Tapert's Ghost House Pictures and sold internationally by its partner Mandate. Buyers should be content they have a sound, if uninspired, horror movie for their catalogues.
The film opens as Liu picks up a French prostitute (Richardson) and takes her back to a mansion where she is strung up as a plaything for a mysterious, wheelchair bound man. Just as he is about to have his way with her, Liu pulls out a bow and arrow and demands to know the whereabouts of a man named Bishop. After he gives her an address, she fires a stake into his heart and releases the girl.
The film then flashes back six months. Liu is Sadie Blake, a reporter with free newspaper LA Weekly who has just made the front cover with a story about undergound culture in the city.
Soon after publication, she discovers that one of her contacts on the piece Trisha has been brutally killed, her throat ripped out, at a strange party and she decides to investigate.
Almost immediately, she is abducted and taken to the mansion where she is herself raped and killed by vicious vampires Bishop (D'Arcy) and Eve (Gugino). She wakes up on a tray in the morgue consumed by a craving for blood and a rage at her killers.
She sets about hunting them down one by one, while guiltily killing a homeless man, then a hitchhiker to feed her blood need. But in the process of her search, she awakens the suspicions of the maverick cop on the case Detective Rawlins (Chiklis), who was the father of the murdered Trisha. Once they realise they are on the same team, they set about finding and killing Bishop who has retreated to his country lair.
While never having made the A-list, Liu has a definite star presence which she displayed in Kill Bill Vol 1 and Lucky Number Slevin as well as the Charlie's Angels films. Here she has fun as the doomed action heroine and there's a hint she might come back at the movie's end. Let's hope the next episode, should there be one, gives her more to get her teeth into.
Ghost House Pictures
Samuel Goldwyn Films/Destination Films