“Life is just a long, scenic drive to the cliff(..), but in the end, whether you are a good person or a son of a bitch – it is all the same cliff”.
This is one of the many truths spoken in “City of Dead Men”. However, imagine a film filled with so much pretentious lines, so much carpe diem ideology and finally – so much plot-wise nonsense – that after a while it becomes a burden to finish it. And it hurts even more, once you start analyzing it piece by piece, because eventually you end up thinking – hey, this could be quite good.
Michael (Diego Boneta) wanders around in the streets of Medellin in Colombia, claiming to be a backpacker. However, he is homeless, trying to make ends meet in a variety of ways. Accidentally, he meets a girl, who takes him to a shady group known as The Dead Men, led by charismatic and mysterious Jacob (Jackson Rathbone). As Michael gets to know their leader, he becomes entangled in a creepy tribalism of the group.
Kirk Sullivan, The director of “City of Dead Men”, is never certain as to what is the sole essence of his tale. He desperately throws in the bag all the stuff he finds “cool” or “scary”, already being present in the genre. There are creepy kids with masks (“The Orphanage” or “The Devil’s Backbone” are strong with this one), techno-and-drug-fueled parties in an abandoned ward (“The Catacombs”) and weird, self-proclaimed cult leaders (“The Cult” and… tons of other films) – all check. A seemingly best way out is to – at least according to Sullivan – strike a balance between horror and drama.
How does it end? Not very well. “City of Dead Men” is filled with too much poorly written Nietsche inspirations, babbled by egocentric and over-the-top acted Jacob. Jackson Rathbone, portraying the role of the cult leader, belongs to a kitschy soft-rock band gone wrong, like HIM, rather than a truly terrifying guru, a kind of Mephistopheles embodied. Nothing better happens with the protagonist. Whilst he is the center of the drama arch that happens in “City of Dead Men”, Michael is a quite unsatisfying lead for the plot. The trauma he carries is barely visible, his motivations poorly backed-up and his transformation seems highly unlikely to be real. With two bleak characters up front, “City of Dead Men” never meant to deliver anything apart from a yawn.
Not much should be expected from the script too. As two main characters and their artificial clash is rather boring, the plot cannot truly surprise. The ultimate twist could be seen from a mile ahead and time to get to the finale is just not worth it. Additionally, the amount of mumbo-jumbo aimed at the viewer’s ears is unbearable. Even a half-wit would notice at some point that Jacob says the exact same thing, over and over again. Everybody dies, I get it Jacob. I really do.
However, it is a pity, though the technical aspect of the movie is not such a total mess. There are some really well directed scenes – Sullivan knows the drill with the dynamic scenes or how to keep the drug-infused party going on-screen. Yet, even if the director manages to extract some sort of magic in it, it pops like a bubble that Jacob mentions in the film.
“City of Dead Men” could have been forged into a slick, scary horror with a supernatural twist. Instead, it is an hour-and-a-half long discourse about the fact that we all die, with interludes such as creepy children and hanging out in the streets of Medellin. Hence, do yourself a favor and find something else.
City of Dead Men (2014)
Dir. Kirk Sullivan
Cast: Diego Boneta, Jackson Rathbone
Hate Grade: 8/10