The condemned: The Recall
The plot: The Recall is one of those films that makes you look at an earlier Home Video Hell entry like the Shannen Doherty-inclusive Bethany and think to yourself, “Man, those people really knew what they were doing.” An odd cross between an alien abduction movie and a cabin-in-the-woods creature feature, the film fails at both by not understanding basic mechanics of storytelling, along with a script that does no favors to anyone looking for consistent… well, much of anything, really. (There is one delightful exception, and his name rhymes with Nestle Stripes.) Two odious twentysomething guys, two backstory-less women, and Walt Jr. from Breaking Bad (R.J. Mitte, here rocking a ’90s goth-industrial kid haircut) pile into a car and head for a Labor Day weekend cabin retreat in the woods. (They’re staying near a still-as-the-grave lake, yet have decided to pack surfboards for some reason.) After a gas station run-in with an unstable backwoods survivalist type (Snipes), they arrive at their destination, and immediately break in to an old cabin that turns out to be owned by… the unstable backwoods survivalist hunter guy. They just manage to escape back to their own posh, upscale cabin, via a form of running I like to call, “barely.”
But that doesn’t matter, because soon enough, giant spaceships are appearing in the sky, aliens are walking the Earth, and people are being abducted. It’s up to our antiheroes (they’re not really written as such, but outside of Mitte’s Brendan, tolerable because he’s given no real personality to speak of, none of them are likable) to fight off the space invaders. And if you guessed they eventually do so by teaming up with the crazy hunter man, then you are only half right, and a better judge of narrative logic than this film. Let’s just say that if you’ve seen Fire In The Sky, you’re going to probably wish you were watching Fire In The Sky during the last act.
Over-the-top box copy: Despite coming out in select theaters (more on that later) and via digital release, there’s so no real copy to speak of, beyond the tag line, “They’ve come to claim what’s theirs,” which might also just be a nervous production assistant’s way of warning the creators that the producers are here and want their money back.
The descent: There looks to be one reason this film exists, and that’s because it’s a technological experiment. In the “about” section of the film’s website, it mentions that, “The Recall was shot for the new Barco Escape three-screen, panoramic theatrical format, which fully surrounds audiences and offers the ultimate immersive cinema experience.” And damned if this movie, which on the scale of direct-to-VOD offerings ranks fairly far down in quality, didn’t get released on more than 30 specialty screens nationwide last month—only for a single day, true, but that’s more than most. From what I can tell, this wraparound screening gimmick is meant to be an impressive experience, but like most wannabe William Castle-level tricks, just ends up more of a headache than a marvel.
From my exhaustive research, composed of a quick Google search, it looks like only a few other movies have tried out this technology, including the first couple Maze Runner films and Star Trek Beyond. But while those films, in addition to being competently produced projects, simply took what you’d see on the normal screen and blew it out lengthwise, The Recall excitingly left in things like, say, a few extra trees. As the only legit review of the Barco screening experience I could find puts it, this tool meant “a conversation that would normally follow a classic shot/reverse-shot editing rhythm [instead] shows one character’s face on the centre screen, and another on one of the adjunct screens (meaning you have to suffer the sort of dopey reactions that are judiciously edited out of most movies). For the most part, the action unfolds in the centre screen alone. You know, like at a regular movie.”
Interestingly, the movie seemed to be an opportunity for investors to throw their money away not just with a new exciting way to get a neck-ache, but also with a bonus 10-minute VR short, “Abduction,” in which the viewer experiences a compressed variant on the story seen from the point of view of Mitte’s Brendan. It’s available for download on the Oculus right now if you so choose, which I would strenuously recommend against, just based off the actual film, which is somewhere between Skyline and A Talking Cat!?! in terms of quality.
The theoretically heavenly talent: The chance to see Walter White’s son mix it up with tax evader and previous Home Video Hell star Wesley Snipes was the big draw. Nothing about that pairing sounded remotely sensible—it’s somewhere south of the teaming of Tim Robbins and Martin Lawrence for Nothing To Lose, as far as ill-matched duos go—but despite a cover image promising just that, the two are only in three scenes together.
Nonetheless, Snipes is an often-great actor who lost the thread, and is now reduced to mostly hamming it up in a variety of a B-movie (or in this case, D-movie) nonsense. And he doesn’t disappoint here, growling and giggling his way through atrocious dialogue that he manages to make palatable by dint of sheer lunacy. It’s the opposite of what’s given Mitte, who has so few lines, he could have easily been replaced by a mop draped with cue cards containing his dialogue, and it would have been equally plausible.
The execution: Rotten. It’s a movie so jam-packed with inexplicable choices and characterizations that turn on a dime, it feels more sensible to provide a small sample of a few of the more notable decisions made by The Recall, which is a title just crying out for vituperative reviewers to engage in some old-fashioned wordplay of the kind that’s far too subtle to be dialogue in The Recall.
- Within minutes of strange cloud formations appearing in the sky, the film’s equivalent of CNN is featuring people who claim to have been abducted by UFOs, as though the first move of a news network would be pulling in the nearest crackpots from off the street.
- It’s one of those movies about young people where nobody has a personality. The sole character trait of one guy, Rob, is “an asshole.” The other guy, Charlie, is shown doing nothing but grieving for his dead girlfriend, the victim of a car crash 10 months earlier in which he was driving. He and Rob go from friends to enemies roughly three seconds after the aliens first appear, for no discernible reason.
- Walt Jr. isn’t even granted enough of a persona to interact with the others. When the rest of the group hits the hot tub, he sits and watches a motion-sensor camera he set up earlier to try and catch a glimpse of a bear. No, there’s no explanation given for his behavior, and no, it doesn’t pay off in any way.
- When one of the girls tries to get help on Snipes’ military radio, the voice on the other end responds to her question of “Who is this?” with “This is the U.S. military.” You know, like they do.
- The other girl goes briefly catatonic when she sees the alien spacecraft, then says, “Now I know what happened to me… I came down from the clouds.” This is never explained nor followed up on.
- Halfway through the film, Snipes’ character delivers a massive info dump explaining the aliens’ history with Earth, the strange markings borne by people they’ve taken in the past, and their plans for this night, yet somehow fails to make anything clearer.
- The film’s last third is a shoddy fusing of The Matrix and Fire In The Sky, set up in the alien ship, in which the aliens are replacing the characters’ bodies with metallic coils and viscous goo, yet allow one guy to roam free, yanking out wires and plugs at will. It seems like bad planning on their part.
There are many more issues, but a catalogue of all the inconsistent moments would run roughly the same length as the film. Suffice to say, the final minutes see them all waking up naked back in the forest, their clothes thoughtfully folded alongside them, with no memory of the previous night. Not only do they all shake it off with a laugh, as though waking up nude in the woods with short-term memory loss is just another wacky night—“Must’ve been pretty crazy there, right?”—but two of them start making out, apropos of nothing, especially given the lack of remembering. It ends with them using their newly installed alien powers to steal a gun via telekinesis, bring one another back to life, and heal wounds, all with some mutual understanding that such things are perfectly normal. In the final shot, the clouds are re-forming, thereby putting the lie to Snipes’ statement the previous evening that the aliens spent 65 years planning, “all for tonight.” A more honest response would’ve been, “All for tonight—and the next night, too, I guess.” Unless they just didn’t get to everything on their to-do list the night before.
Likelihood it will rise from obscurity: Not a chance. There are more than enough Wesley Snipes B-movies at this point that at least deliver a serviceable story and enough action to place them well above The Recall. If anything, it’s a great demonstration of how hard it is to make a good-bad movie. This is just a dreary slog, with two decent CGI shots (a floating jellyfish of an alien drifting silently through the cabin, and one massive, presumably budget-busting image of a character waking up onboard the alien ship in one among many innumerable pods, à la The Matrix.) Do not watch this film.
Damnable commentary track or special features? Like many a modern film delivered unto the digital-only wilds, there’s not even a production stills gallery, let alone a making-of featurette or blooper reel. Perhaps the filmmakers consider the film itself a blooper reel of sorts.