A girl is confronted by something old, yet utterly sinister. Images flash through her mind. A mysterious tentacled creature’s shape is revealed in brilliant flashes, with a miasma cloud surrounding it in deep space. A streak of shooting light shines brightly as it makes its way across the cosmos, running away from the planet from which it has been cast out. Two figures, both with blank white eyes stand side by side. Their mouths are agape as ominous music plays in the background. With the mystery set by the past, we dive headfirst into the future that takes root at the mysterious BLACK SITE.
Written and directed by Tom Paton (Redwood), BLACK SITE focuses primarily on Ren Reid (Samantha Schnitzler), the young girl who had a fateful encounter with the Elder God, Erebus, at the very beginning of the film. She is now a woman grown and desires to be a field officer like her father and her grandfather before her. Unfortunately, due to the encounter she had in her youth with the Elder God, she is unable to pass her psych evals in order to be declared competent to work in the field. As is explained pretty early on in the film, the Elder Gods have managed to slip from their world to planet Earth. In order to sustain their strength, they inhabit human bodies with detrimental effects on the humans they take over. In order to subdue the Gods and take them back to the BLACK SITE where the Elder Gods are then deported back to their own world, field officers need to be able to have strong minds. It becomes very clear to all that the impact of the Elder God on Ren’s brain as a child has left scars.
However, Ren gets thrown into the field unexpectedly when the same Elder God that infiltrated her mind and murdered her parents years ago gets captured by field agents for deportation. Erebus, the Elder God, is found in the body of a convicted criminal (Kris Johnson). While the special military unit on the base thinks they have the upper hand, it quickly becomes apparent that Erebus has plans up his sleeve. A violent cult invades the BLACK SITE in order to retrieve the God they so fervently worship and Ren must do everything she can to ensure that Erebus gets deported at all costs.
BLACK SITE is a subtle, suspenseful science fiction film that pays homage to the ’80s while maintaining its modernity with its reversal of gender roles. in fact, the men in the film take a step back as the women come forward and embrace the subtly complex, powerful characters that take charge in the film. As anyone who is familiar with ’80s science fiction movies, generally, the female characters are placed on the backburner. Here, however, we get to see a variety of women taking on positions of power and leadership. You have Ren Reid, who is the quintessential Chosen One type. Angela Dickson plays the leader of the site, Jennifer Wilkinson. She’s sarcastic and in charge, but is also respected by those around her. Phoebe Robinson-Galvin plays Ker, the muscle aiming to get Erebus back for the cult and, in a role that may be completely underlooked, Sophia Del Pizzo plays Danforth, the eyes of the cult who guides the fellow cult members through the military base.
All four of these characters you could easily see men playing, but the gender swap creates something meaningful. It creates a normalization of these types of characters, which is completely refreshing. The gender swap’s impact on the story also impacts the male characters. While Erebus starts off as an all-powerful Elder God making fun of the human “bugs” that have trapped him, the reveal of his motivations behind getting caught by the base further humanizes him and allows for character development you wouldn’t expect. Bentley Kalu’s Jay Austin is a leader and interrogator, but his paternal instincts towards Ren help soften what could be an obnoxious, hoo-rah type of soldier character. And Michael Danforth’s Sam, a character who honestly has the power to deport Gods and would have been the Chosen One in another movie, is placed in a sidekick position as a result of his general personality. For some, this might be an issue. However, I felt that it gave the film a breath of fresh air.
While the characters were written in a well-rounded fashion, the story itself wasn’t something entirely new despite the infusion of Lovecraftian elements injected into the science fiction storyline, At points, it also dragged with its emphasis on action over propelling the plot. To further stall the plot, the audience sees Ren have numerous visions of the same images I mentioned above to the point where the sequence in which the images pop up is easy to memorize. Despite how slow the plot felt at times, I could not deny that the suspense and desire to know how the story ended was there. The natural build of suspense between the action sequences, Ren’s mysterious visions, and the lack of knowing whether or not Erebus was enough to have me hooked without realizing it. And I think that’s the selling point right there.
In terms of the special effects used throughout the course of the film, they were kept at a minimum. However, what effects were used were done in such a subtle, yet effective way that it helped keep the film rooted in the world that Paton had created. Overall, BLACK SITE is a film that seeks to pay homage to the science fiction films of the ’80s while injecting it with Lovecraftian flavor. While the plot itself could have been finessed and edited a bit more, the natural suspense that builds between each scene helps to keep the audiences invested to see the film’s path to the end.
BLACK SITE is now available on Blu-ray! You can order it here!