There comes a point in everyone’s life where they have to accept that not all films are going to be directed by John Carpenter. Sure, it would be better if they were, but they aren’t. Yet, it’s still pretty much undeniable that Carpenter is still the benchmark by which post-80s horror must measure itself. There’s a lot of Carpenter and a lot of 80s to Armed Response – its combination of action, sci-fi and horror tropes is pure Carpenter – with the enclosed, mostly one-location, set-up feeling reminiscent of The Thing – it has an odd plot device involving ghosts like The Fog, and it even features a professional wrestler in the form of WWE’s Seth Rollins, much like They Live. In fact, director John Stockwell was even in Carpenter’s Stephen King adaptation Christine. But there’s one thing that Carpenter had that Armed Response doesn’t – he knew how to have fun.
Armed Response is the story of a building, the Temple, an elite military facility built to act as an incredibly complex lie detector, seemingly able to detect your thoughts from your sweat, or something like that. One day, the entire team working at one of these temples disappears, so the creator of the Temples (Dave Annable) along with the crack team of Wesley Snipes, Anne Heche, Seth Rollins and some others – who frankly get killed off too quickly for their names to matter – pile into their Winnebago and set off to find out what happened. Spoiler: It involves an all-too-clever AI system.
The premise has some promise: the idea of trapping a group of characters in a building that can find out any time they’re lying has a lot going for it, especially as the technology ‘advances itself’, and becomes clearly able to do more. Yet the film does little with the premise, instead turning it into every ghost/grim reaper horror film you’ve part slept through. It almost seems at times like a film that started as one thing and was rewritten partway through filming, as it starts as an action horror, almost like a really stupid combination of Aliens and 2001: A Space Odyssey, but it quickly starts forgetting what the computers can and can’t do for the sake of dramatic effect, with a late-in-the-day unveiling of a combined backstory of the military personnel seeming confusing and muddled.
It seems odd that Snipes is the main talent pushed for his involvement in this film, as while he’s quite prominent he’s certainly not the lead (that duty falls on the not-entirely prepared shoulders of Dave Annable), and he seems barely awake in his scenes with him and Heche having a perennial look of faint embarrassment at their involvement. Only Rollins manages to actually make an impact. While playing a character not a million miles away from villainous ones he’s performed in the ring before, he brings an authenticity to his brief fight scenes, and even with the lack of any real shading to his character he manages to seem like the only person in the cast having any fun.
You can’t help but wonder what might have been if they’d given the script another pass or two because there’s a decent amount of potential in Armed Response. The cinematography and effects work are hardly notable but they’re clean, clear and don’t become muddled when the action moves into the dark. There’s enough talent in front of the camera to fill out a decent script, but it could just do with a dose of energy and just a bit more fun. There’s only so much footage of people walking moodily down darkly lit corridors this reviewer can take.
Dir: John Stockwell
Scr: Matt Savelloni
Cast: Wesley Snipes, Anne Heche, Dave Annable, Seth Rollins, Kyle Clements, Morgan Roberts, Mo Gallini, Eyas Younis, Mike Seal
Prd: Matthew J. Luisi, Gene Simmons
DOP: Matthew Irving
Music: Elia Cmiral
Country: United States
Run time: 93 minutes
Armed Response is out on Blu-ray, DVD and digital download from 16th October.