Reviews: Fire City - End of Days

Check out Andrew's review of the upcoming Fire City!!!

"I am Groot."
Continuing with the impetus established by Harbinger Down, practical special effects make up company Amalgamated Dynamics is back with another unique demonstration of their gifts for bringing horror movie monsters to vivid bloody life! 

Co-founder and CEO Tom Woodruff, Jr. (best known as the Xenomorph in Alien 3) directs what is essentially a cross between the noir cityscape of Sin City populated by the creatures in Nightbreed with his new film Fire City: End of Days.   While you could immediately slap Fire City’s makers on the wrist for stealing its subtitle from the equally demonic Peter Hyams directed Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle End of Days, this is otherwise a cool bit of anthropomorphic creature feature storytelling about a demon in a sleazy and violent underworld who may have a bit more compassion in his blood than his next of kin.  Think of an ensemble piece with many demons disguised as humans who thrive on human misery as the premise with our observation of their interpersonal problems not unlike our own as the narrative hook.  They might be inhuman monsters but their concerns and ways of life have more in common with human frailties than first glance would lead us to believe.

As a movie, Fire City isn’t so much a horror film or a standard thriller but rather a character study of a demon experiencing internal conflict with self-actualization.  Episodic in form and largely confined to the interior mazelike canals of the apartment complex housing the film’s characters, think of Michael Radford’s Dancing at the Blue Iguana with demons instead of strippers.  While the dour and dimly lit audiovisual tone of Fire City is closer to Peter Hyams’ aforementioned thriller than Blue Iguana, it shares that film’s plotless structure in an attempt to exemplify the similarities between the outsiders’ way of life and our own.  It’s a little bit slow in pacing as a result but then again I couldn’t get enough of scenes where the demons introspect on their own inescapable alienation from the human race they prey on. 

Much like Nightbreed, it depicts a gang of inhuman misfits whose survival is threatened by human forces and shows off a remarkable feat in special effects makeup technology.  In between shots, the demons remove their human disguises so we can see all of their unholy physical features, allowing viewers the chance to see the characters as their fellow humans see them and as they are.  Playing with notions of Beauty and the Beast as well as The Ugly Duckling and subtle hints of Hellboy, Fire City uses the supernatural horror premise to make a point about internal beauty as opposed to outward physical appearances.  It’s an age old premise bordering on cliché but it still works effectively here thanks to Amalgamated Dynamics’ effects team.  Of course the makeup effects work wouldn’t hold up if not for the actors who have to act through layers upon layers of make-up and manage to overcome the obstacle of displaying human emotions through all that latex and rubber.  The first time we see the film’s loose protagonist Vine, adorned with antler-like horns and demonic facial features, we fear him.  But by the time we’re caught up in his story and see his human vulnerabilities, we’ve learned to see past his intimidating appearance and there’s a wonderful moment where a little girl sees him for what he is for the first time and displays affection instead of terror.    

"Look into my eyes......"
Much like Harbinger Down, Fire City is a tad derivative and therefore not an original masterpiece.  There are times when its budgetary limitations result in bad CGI transitions such as a gaudy looking effect of a demon opening its wings, offsetting the far more impressive physical effects work.  As previously mentioned, the makeup for the humanoid demons is technically stunning save for one creature that’s half-human half-boar with mouth and jaw movements that make the dated animatronics in The NeverEnding Story look stronger by comparison.  Outside of the shortcomings, Fire City is a cool watch populated by characters you learn to care about and continues to prove Amalgamated Dynamics’ point that there are no visual effects out there quite like practical effects.  

-Andrew Kotwicki

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