Pitch Black is an Action/Sci-fi/Thriller from 2010. Now I know that it can be argued Pitch Black is not a proper horror movie. But since it was nominated for both the Bram Stoker Award for Best Screenplay and International Horror Guild Award for Best Movie, so I’m not alone in seeing Pitch Blacks merit as a horror film. This film was first introduced to me after it was released to home video by a close personal friend of mine. It was in that same weekend that he also introduced me to the Evil Dead Series beyond Army of Darkness, which at the time I thought was a stand alone film. Pitch Black stars Vin Diesel in what could be considered his most iconic role as the anti-hero Riddick. Directed by David Twohy Pitch Black became a sleeper hit eventually spawning 3 sequels over the next 13 years.
Pitch Black opens with a space transport crashing on a deserted planet orbiting three suns, after being torn up by space debris. Carolyn Fry (Radha Mitchell) the ship pilot along with a motley crew of survivors, including prison escapee Riddick (Vin Diesel), William J. Johns (Cole Hauser), Sharron ‘Shazza’ Montgomery (Claudia Black), Abu ‘Imam’ al-Walid (Keith David) among a handful of others. Shortly after the crash Riddick escapes his confines, eludes his escort Johns and flees into the dessert. While searching the area for Riddick and desperately needed water the group comes across the giant skeletons of the planets former inhabitants in what looks to be a communal graveyard. Shortly after they come across an abandoned human settlement and more importantly a ship. The ship while out of fuel can be adapted to the crashed ships energy. Back at the crash one of the survivors is killed by creatures underground while burying the dead from the crash. Riddick is found and captured at the site and is suspected for the murder. At Riddick’s suggestion Fry searches the depths of the hole near where the man was killed and discovers that the planets underground is filled with carnivorous monsters. So the group makes the decision that leaving sooner rather than later is in their best interest, start dragging fuel to the found ship and making needed repairs. While drinking to their good fortune another member of their survivor falls victim, which is quickly followed by the onset of an eclipse forcing the remaining survivors to make a desperate gamble to get enough fuel before a lasting darkness falls and they all die.
The films pace is almost impeccable with the whole film carrying a sense of urgency. But it will linger longer than needed, but with scene serves its purpose well to move along the plot or develop the characters. With the large cast the filmmakers are able to shift between the two different protagonists Carolyn and Riddick keeps everything interesting.
Vin Diesel absolutely steals the show as Riddick. In fact, he does such a good job that I often site this film as his second best work, with it being second only to his work in The Iron Giant. He nails the role as the murderous anti-hero with his cold deliverance. The fact that Vin Diesel as a rather good action star helps out a lot. Plus he used to play D&D, how awesome is that.
The monsters design is amazing with the creatures feeling very alive. As the creatures are harmed by light they are only seen for quick flashes, they have a animalistic mentality, quick movements and judicious use of screen time makes for a very potent antagonist. Combined with the hostility of the environment the deck feels heavily stacked against the films heroes. The creatures have three different development stages, while never addressed directly in the movie they are hinted at. The glow bugs, the flying birds and the large flying grey creatures are all phases in the same animals natural life cycle.
So what are my final thoughts on Pitch Black? I love it and for a myriad of reasons, most of which I listed. Another one is it ties in with some nostalgia to Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome as the used the same dessert locals for filming. Along with the sober tone that the film ends on reminds me heavily of Alien. It’s easy to see why I love this movie, but as amazing as it is some of its effects haven’t held up the best. So what to rate it? Pitch Black is a great horror film and is easily in my top ten favorite sci-fi films so at the end of the day while it nearly touches on perfection it doesn’t quite reach it for me. 9/10
P.S. The acting by the whole cast is top notch. With a special note on Keith David who does a standout performance amongst a whole career of standout performances.