DreadWorld Review: 'Fire City: End of Days' (2015)

Tom Woodruff Jr. is a legend in the special effects realm. His work through the 80's and early 90's with Stan Winston pushed the limits of what was capable with practical effects for film. Woodruff worked on everything from the creatures in Alien to Pumpkinhead - he was the guy actually in the Pumpkinhead suit in the Lance Hendricksen horror classic. Woodruff eventually founded his own effects company and began to dabble in the other parts of the film making process, specifically, directing. After shooting a couple of short films, Woodruff plied his hand to his first full length feature, the horror/fantasy Fire City: End of Days.

Written by Michael Hayes (not the wrestler - I think) and Brian Lubocki, the "Fire City" series, which was originally conceived as a web series, begins in a run down LA apartment building populated by both humans and secret demons. Able to mask their true appearance from the humans by appearing human themselves, the demons survive on human misery. When that misery suddenly disappears, the demons turn to their protector Atum Vine (Tobias Jelenik) to restore order. But what Atum and his demon cohorts soon discover is that Atum is destined for something far greater. Will Atum sacrifice his own kind to protect humanity? Or will he do what he has always done to maintain the status quo?

Fire City: End of Days is meant to be the first part of a 4 film set with even the first feature being precluded by the similarly titled short film "Fire City: King of Miseries," which was also directed by Woodruff. Perhaps that's why the first half an hour of the film is so dense. Hayes and Lubocki are setting up everything that is coming over the next 8 hours or so of storytelling. But this isn't Lord of the Rings. No one watching this film will have any sort of frame of reference regarding what is happening. And what is happening will literally make your brain hurt. Demons turn to humans and back to demons depending on a characters perspective. There are curses and other worlds. Some of the demons have specific jobs, while others just kind of sit around. There is some talk about an "interpreter" that out of context is completely nonsensical.

The world that Hayes and Lubocki create is equally as jarring. These demons (for the most part) are bad individuals. They prey on the most rudimentary of human vices in order to extract misery from them. Atum is a small time drug dealer. There are prostitutes, child molesters, fortune tellers, literally every kind of earth bound scum you can find. Adding to the dirty feeling of the film is the way Woodruff shoots it. The film is very "close." There is very little scope. The film feels very claustrophobic and never really opens up to let the frame breathe. My brain was screaming for just one damn wide shot to cleanse the palate between scenes.

But therein lies some of the charm of Fire City (I'm not typing that whole title over and over). You never feel comfortable. It keeps you constantly on edge. Even when the film falls into it's predictable third act, there is an uneasy feeling held within every frame.

As would be expected, the majority of the effects in the film look pretty good. There is some "b" level effects spread through some of the minor characters who look like they are wearing Halloween masks. That, coupled with some terrible ADR, is almost enough to short circuit all the goodwill that the effective make up has built.

Fire City: End of Days (Okay fine...one more time) is an ambitious film that should be hamstrung by its minimal budget. What Woodruff is able to do is turn the budgetary negatives into an claustrophobic positive. It's a shame that the story can't really support the weight of Woodruffs vision. It's leans far too much on it's unfamiliar, borderline insane mythology early on. But if you can make it through the morass and just focus on Vine's personal journey, there there is a kernel of a good film buried here. Check it out if you are a fan of comic book inspired fantasy films, or dark fairy tales.

*** stars out of *****

That's it for me. As always thanks for reading and "enjoy every sandwich."

1 comment:

  1. What a wonderfully thoughtful and fair revue. I've been reading reviews about this film all over online and they run to the far extremes - although Vudu, Amazon & iTunes seems to have consistently solid customer ratings - it's refreshingly nice to get an honest take before spending my Halloween film calories!