Reel Society

Reviews for the latest movies in theaters and on DVD.

Underworld: Rise of the Lycans


Review by Patrick Hodges

Horror movies involving vampires have been a staple of Hollywood ever since the days of silent films.  Movies featuring werewolves have been around for very nearly as long.  Now, very few films in the last century have attempted to feature both types of mythical monsters (and some of those have been more for comedic effect than horror), and none have done it as often or as recently as the Underworld series.

If you have seen either of the first two films of this series, both of which starred Kate Beckinsale as Selene, a vampire caught between both sides in the centuries-old war between the vampires (known here as the “Death-Dealers”) and the werewolves (known here, obviously, as the “Lycans”).  However, this story is not a continuation of the series, but rather a prequel, taking us all the way back to the beginning of the story, where we learn how the Lycans came into being and how their vicious blood-feud started.

Given that both races tend to be extremely long-lived, it should come as no surprise that Bill Nighy reprises his role as Viktor, the leader of the vampires, who is fighting a war with a pack of animalistic werewolves who attack his castle on a regular basis.  He has bred a race of slaves, known as Lycans, who are part human and part werewolf but subservient to the vampires, in order to keep the savage werewolves at bay.  The leader of the Lycan slaves is Lucian (played by Frost/Nixon’s Michael Sheen), who has also entered a forbidden tryst with Viktor’s daughter Sonja (Rhona Mitra).  Their forbidden love, as you can imagine, sparks all kinds of controversy, all of which build to a head when, as the title indicates, the slaves attempt to rise up and free themselves from their captors.

I don’t imagine many people who haven’t seen at list a little of either of the first two movies would want to see this prequel, but as it happens, it’s not really necessary to follow the plot of Rise of the Lycans… in fact, it might help you understand the first two films a little better.  Granted, having seen the first two might ruin a little bit of the ending for you, given that you know who is going to survive and who probably won’t, but that’s neither here nor there.  (Note: Kate DOES appear in this film, in the last few seconds before the credits, in case you were wondering.)

I honestly didn’t expect to enjoy this film, and only attended it as a favor to my wife (who simply adores any movie with vampires, werewolves or zombies).  However, I can’t say that I left the theater disappointed with what I saw.  It was violent and gory, of course, with some cool fight scenes, and the acting wasn’t too bad.  Nighy brought his usual flair to the role of Viktor, and did a great job of conveying his sense of deep pain and loss when he learned of his daughter’s “betrayal”.  Mitra and Sheen did equally well with what they were given.

January is the month for low-grade horror flicks, and January 2009 is no exception (see The Unborn, My Bloody Valentine, The Uninvited), but if you want a decent bit of entertainment without taxing your brain too much, this film may be the one for you.

3 / 5 stars

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