Fantasy films are hard to come by. The genre has been living in a stupor for the past decades, at least when it comes to its life on the silver screen. The Lord of the Rings franchise elevated the production values and the storytelling to sky-high levels, and it has been very hard for studios to reach those highs again. These types of movies are expensive to make, and they also consume a lot of human resources. You basically need designers of all sorts and technically proficient filmmakers that can create these words and make them believable enough to put on screen.
Alpha Rift tries to be that kind of fantasy film. One that appeals to the geek culture that has put comic book movies at the top of the box office in the last decade, as well as one that has made video games and other nerdy stuff mainstream. Sadly, the movie doesn’t have enough resources to pull off its ambitions.
Alpha Rift is written and directed by Dan Lantz and stars Lance Henriksen, Aaron Dalla Villa, Rachel Nielsen and Philip N. Williams. The film tells the story of Nolan Parthmore, who finds a magical helmet that throws him into the secret world of modern magical knights, as he finds out that it might always have been his destiny.
From the first minutes of Alpha Rift, it is pretty clear that this is the definition of a low-budget film. We have cheap-looking locations and production design, wardrobes that might be owned by the actors themselves, bad visual effects, and what might be the most egregious, the cheap-looking wash of the old video format. This last bit feels almost like an insult when there are commercial films out there being filmed on an iPhone that look so much better than this.
So, from the get go, the film has a couple of things against it. It is trying to chew more than it can swallow and even with the few resources it has, it doesn’t manage to raise the bar to the standard that most low-budget films are trying to achieve. When there’s no sense of composition in your shots, you might realize that this isn’t anyone’s best effort.
All of this is very sad because the premise and the story the film is trying to tell is full of potential. Urban fantasy is a niche genre, and it has had a hard time making it into film and television successfully. It thrives in book form, with such long-running series as The Dresden Files and Sandman Slim killing it in that medium. Let’s be clear, the premise and the story are absolutely nothing new and the characters are full of clichés, but there’s nothing really wrong with that. A movie can have all those things and still be enjoyable. The problem with Alpha Rift comes down to the execution.
So, if the movie doesn’t have enough money to realize its potential? What should be done? Well, the most logical thing would be not making the movie. If you can’t do something well, then don’t do it. But the filmmakers here couldn’t follow that logic. Maybe they would change the story, tweak it here and there to adapt to the resources they have? Keep on dreaming. Maybe, just maybe, they would try to focus on the characters instead of the set pieces? That could be reasonable, but the movie also falls victim to having back performers in the cast.
Maybe it is the result of a rushed production, bad direction and such, but most of the acting in the film goes from bad to laughably bad. It doesn’t really help that the lines by themselves are quite on the nose and almost mechanical, but also that it seems none of the actors are taking the film seriously enough. And without that, the stakes of the story can not be felt.
Only Nielsen comes out unhurt, thanks to an innate dosage of charisma. But even the appearance of Henriksen, while appreciated, also cheapens the whole production a bit as it is clear that the actor has fallen from grace a long time ago and this might be the only work he can find. An actor acts, but that doesn’t make it good.
And yet, most of the blame falls on the hand of Lantz. Who basically fails the director’s test by not being able to compose shots or put the camera in the right place, so we can see what is happening on screen. There’s a clear lack of vision that could have helped the film. Even one with such limited resources.
If what you’re looking for is a light adventure film, then there are many more out there that are way more worth your time. But if what you’re looking for is a good Urban Fantasy story, then go to the bookstore, where the genre is telling some of its greatest stories and your life will be better for it.