Alone in the Dark’s failure with audiences and critics alike is not the biggest reason why it’s called one of the worst horror movies of all time.
Uwe Boll’s Alone in the Dark was a commercial and critical failure, but this is not the biggest reason it’s called one of the worst horror movies ever made. Many horror movies that are now considered good or even masterpieces—John Carpenter’s The Thing for example—were originally considered unwatchable. Alone in the Dark is not one of those movies. Today, more than fifteen years after its release, it is still considered one of the worst horror movies of all time. Instead of being one of cinema’s unacknowledged greats, it is widely considered a great example of how not to make a horror movie (or any other kind of movie for that matter). Chances are good that its bad reputation will never change.
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Alone in the Dark earns its status for many reasons, but perhaps the biggest is that it lacks self-awareness, similarly to its director. The movie is clearly a tribute to horror movies of all kinds, including some very specific horror movie titles, like Alien and Relic, which Boll himself has said were a big influence. However, this tribute to the genre fails wildly because the movie doesn’t seem to be aware of how much it actually owes to other movies. Much like the director, Alone in the Dark mistakes its mimicry for imagination.
Instead of respectfully referencing its influences with a new twist or a fresh story, Alone in the Dark merely smashes together bland versions of them. It’s a muddy pastiche of styles, each of which never has enough room to work in any effective way on the screen. Amid all the clumsily incorporated horror movie tropes, which are all valid out of context, Alone in the Dark never adds its own voice—perhaps because it doesn’t have one. The movie is highly derivative, yet it seems completely unaware of this fact. It seems to regard its imitation as ingenuity, much like Boll himself.
Alone in the Dark undoubtedly deserves its reputation as one of the worst horror movies ever made; however, it is not completely devoid of value. Every failure for an artist is an opportunity to learn something. Even if Uwe Boll doesn’t want to learn from his mistakes in Alone in the Dark, other directors still can. Looking back at the work of any artist is likely to reveal low points and high points—moments of failure that the director accepts, reviews, and uses later to make better movies. This is how an artist hones their craft. In interviews, Boll seems to resist developing his craft in this way. As a director, he has certainly evolved, but always on his own terms, never accepting feedback and criticism from others.
The value of Alone in the Dark, Boll’s anti-masterpiece, is as a cautionary tale for up-and-coming horror movie directors. There is a thin line between defending your creative decisions and turning a blind eye to your shortcomings. The failures of Alone in the Dark can function as a detailed roadmap of what not to do for fledgling horror movie directors. While the movie can be seen as an improvement compared to other movies by Boll, it never overcomes its lack of directorial vision. Boll’s persistence and confidence (both great qualities in a director) to make movies like Alone in the Dark are responsible for both building and ending his career, which he recently announced would be restarting in 2021.
Alone in the Dark has a confusing story, poorly written dialogue, and weak direction, despite the director’s opinions. The movie did have a lot going for it (well-known actors, a decent budget), much of which is a credit to Boll’s abilities, but because of its failure to add anything new to the conversation, its biggest value is to directors as a blueprint of what to avoid. Alone in the Dark tries to be many things at once, and in doing so, ultimately fails at being anything in particular.
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