A shot in the dark

The Dark Tower, which stars Idris Elba, has scenes that feel as though the director is shooting a low-budget episode of a Syfy Channel series.
The Dark Tower, which stars Idris Elba, has scenes that feel as though the director is shooting a low-budget episode of a Syfy Channel series.PHOTO: SONY PICTURES

The Dark Tower's joyless computer-enhanced action buries writer Stephen King's trademark dread and paranoia

REVIEW / SUPERNATURAL THRILLER

THE DARK TOWER (PG13)

95 minutes/Now showing/1.5/5 stars

The story: Jake (Tom Taylor), a teen who has been labelled a weirdo, is a cause of worry for his parents because of his obsession with frightening fantasy images. But the world he draws in notepads exists and he later finds himself in it, caught in a battle between The Gunslinger (Idris Elba) and the Man in Black (Matthew McConaughey).

Meet Stephen King, young-adult fiction pioneer. At least this might be who you think the master horror novelist is, after you watch this work, adapted from his The Dark Tower book series.

Everything here feels hammered together from other young-adult dystopias, most notably in the way teen Jake (Taylor) is made the linchpin of the plot, the Chosen One who will bring harmony to the realm.

To be fair to the young-adult genre, the film's problem is not so much its use of tropes taken from, say, the Divergent franchise (2014-2016) or the use of the teen to provide the story's point-of-view. The problem lies in how lethargically phoned-in the tropes are represented.

When evil Walter (McConaughey) inevitably summons a mirage of a dead parent to trick Jake or when Jake makes goo-goo eyes at a village girl, it is as if director Nikolaj Arcel (A Royal Affair, 2012) opted to shoot those scenes as though he were making a low-budget episode of a Syfy Channel series viewers will watch no matter what, because they have already invested in six seasons.

King's way with dread and paranoia has been buried under computer-enhanced action - there are earthquakes, Death Star-style energy beams and spider monsters. Those are not negatives necessarily, but when the presentation is flat and joyless, you have to feel sorry for the team behind the movie.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 05, 2017, with the headline 'A shot in the dark'. Print Edition | Subscribe