Mundane Military Horror Black Ops (2020) Lacks Brains and Brawn
Title: Black Ops
First Wide Release: February 14, 2020 (Digital/Streaming Platforms)
Director: Tom Paton
Writer: Tom Paton
Runtime: 102 Minutes
Starring: Shayne Ward, Bentley Kalu, Samantha Schnitzler
Where to Watch: Check out where to find it here
A group of British soldiers return to their home base after a successful, yet controversial mission. On their way to a brief, they discover their elevator is out of order and that they must take the stairs. Once in the stairwell, they realize that something is off as they keep climbing yet never seem to reach their destination.
Black Ops overstretches its Twilight Zone premise way too thin for the amount of time it expects viewers to keep watching.
I found myself tiring from Black Ops’s schtick by the forty-minute mark. Be it its meandering plot or overly complicated backstory, it doesn’t really have much to say. There is this theme repeated throughout that we are the arbiter of our own morality and that we must accept the choices we make. This plays out in a Groundhog Day scenario, forcing the characters to finally “get it right.” Or so it seems. It really doesn’t work, and only serves to pad the film’s already outrageously long runtime for its premise.
Black Ops is also riddled with plot holes and leaps of logic in order to sustain its convoluted narrative. There is a distinct lack of consistency on what actions need to be taken, who must live or die, what steps are taken when, etc. The film falls apart really quickly once you start thinking a little too hard about it. I also found it really funny who ends up surviving and who doesn’t. Obviously no spoilers, but I think there’s a disconnect between who is deserving of another shot at life and who maybe should have to answer for their actions. Maybe I’m just a bleeding heart, but it didn’t sit right with me and is overall disappointing.
I also found myself annoyed with the characters. First of all, the cast is way too big. There was a moment where I didn’t even realize a character existed until she was one of the few survivors left. It’s clear that she didn’t make a huge impact on me. This problem persisted especially through the beginning and middle parts of the film, as the survivors are picked off one by one. It also makes them hard to distinguish, meaning they are given the bare minimum of development so you can identify one, maybe two traits about them before they are sucked into the darkness.
Speaking of the antagonist of the stairs is laughable. Another missed opportunity in Black Ops is the decision to immediately show an evil ghost girl manipulating the stairs against the protagonists. By showing too much early on, it kills all sense of suspense or intrigue that the film could have generated. Furthermore, the visual effects were not good here. In general, it is an ugly film to look at for too long. The lighting looks completely unnatural. Either saturated in bright party light red in the stairwell or filtered into a dull blue or gray color pallet for the war zone. It creates a very artificial environment that makes it hard to believe any danger is real.
There are some bright spots, however, that do make the film rise above some of the more odious genre outputs of the year. The effects work on the portals is well done and looks very realistic. They gave the film a mysterious, almost Creepypasta-like vibe. The idea itself is one I can get behind, which is why I tuned in originally. If given a little more to work with, it could have been a sleeper surprise of the year. The acting, while nothing noteworthy, is certainly serviceable for a film of this fodder. It never feels distracting or too over the top, which typically plagues lower budget horror films.
I wanted to like Black Ops more than I did. There is potential behind the story, if only it were treated with sharper characterizations, a smaller cast, and meatier budget. There are worse ways to burn a watch on Hulu, but unfortunately, I cannot justify recommending this one to y’all. If you’re looking for intense, edge-of-your-seat action horror or, on the flipside, contemplative horror soaked with meaningful social commentary, you’re better off shooting your shot with another film.
Overall Score? 4.5/10