Brad Dourif: Fading of the Cries (2011)
By Dom Sinacola· Oct 23, 2013
What once seemed anecdotal now seems tragic: that Brad Dourif, an excellent character actor who early in his career was simply an excellent actor, just keeps doing this to himself. Every actor worth his or her weight in production dollars is bound to hit a snag every once in a while, but it’s Brad Dourif, consummate giver of zero fucks, who feels content snagging work from the bowels of Hollywood, seemingly incapable, despite his prestigious talent and reputation with some of the most revered directors of the last four decades, to do anything in the past five years but work almost wholly within the realm of bafflingly terrible movies. He is better than this, in other words; he’s Doc on Deadwood, Hazel Motes in Wise Blood, the voice of Chucky the psychopathic doll, Wormtongue, in Gates of Heaven, has worked with both David Lynch and Werner Herzog more than once, has held his ground in any number of batshit roles. One should look no further than the origins of the very category in which this article you’re currently reading falls to see that Brad Dourif’s filmography is what defines the phrase “We Love You,” which at this point is more a protestation than a confession. “But, but…we love you!”, like you’re saying it to your drug-addicted son or to a dog that’s pissed itself on your comforter. Like, it’s not peeing on your comforter, it just happens to be there while it flagrantly and guiltily pees all over itself, staring at you with panda-sad eyes. In turn you do little more than watch, the whole time, as it completely empties its bladder, down to the last drop.
Fading of the Cries is what’s left after the last drop. It’s the sawdust poofing out the end of a puppy’s little tool. It’s when the puppy’s still trying to pee even though it’s got nothing left because that’s what it thinks you want—because you’re watching after all, unable to turn away—plus zombies and black magic and a samurai sword. Fading of the Cries may not be the worst movie Brad Dourif’s ever been in—such a statement would require a full-on, shameless blitzkrieg of plowing through the sheer caloric glut of every piece of shit he’s attached himself to in, at the very least, two decades, and though I’ve seen a lot of his movies, I’ve barely chipped off the tip of his career’s apocryphal iceberg—but it does throw a whole lot of doubt over whatever it is Brad Dourif thinks he’s doing nowadays. Like: is he paying for a mortgage? Alimony? Gambling debts? An ill-advised yacht on the Mediterranean? Or is this some sort of long-winded “fuck you” flung at the upper echelons of the film industry system, a bit of Abramovician Life-as-performance-art, to be concluded upon death, forever and ever, amen?
Existing care of Brian A. Metcalf, a visual effects artist who cut his teeth on such projects as the 24 DVD Board Game and—seriously—The Passion of the Christ, Fading of the Cries is a nerdgasm of high school goth kid tropes fed by the most obscure dregs of FEARnet’s On Demand channel. Directed and written by Metcalf, who also served as the FX supervisor, Cries tries its hand at a zombie slasher, a ghost story, even, I suppose, a bildungsroman, but Metcalf, despite his pedigree, seems to have no real idea what makes the niche genres he imitates so worth imitating in the first place. It’s a painful ignorance, and the movie an ugly miss, a big mess with Dourif its cherry on top.
Thomas Ian Nicholas, he of Rookie of the Year and American Pie fame, stars as Michael, a greasy novelist who, in the throes of finishing his last book, loses his wife and daughter to a drunk driving accident. In shock, he moves to a small town where he can be closer to his sister Maggie (Elaine Hendrix) and her then-two-to-three-year-old daughter Sarah. This backstory Michael reveals swiftly in voiceover. The first lines of the film:
Michael: June 17th. It has been several months since the death of my wife and daughter. I ask God every day why they were taken from me with one swift blow. I’d begun smoking again—an invitation for death with arms wide open. I feel more alone in this world than ever before.
Michael moves into a run-down but impressive estate called Eckling Manor, which he exclaims he got for an unbelievable price. He spends most of his time, when his sister isn’t bringing over cookies, pacing the halls of his dirty abode, refusing to clean or write his book despite the incessant calls from his publisher, mostly just piling up cigarette butts all over the house and wearing a loose khaki and billowing blouse combo that even Uncle Joey from Full House would’ve thought twice about.
Fast-forward 14 years, and Sarah (Hallee Hirsh) is somewhere indeterminately in her angry teens, pissed 24/7 at her mom because that’s how she’s supposed to be. She calls her mom by her first name and jokes with her friend Emily that she’s late to their rebellious rendezvous, wherein they will scandalously imbibe a fifth of vodka together, because “Maggie is just being Maggie,” to which Emily responds by calling Maggie a “bitch,” theirs a hatred derived from nothing more than the fact that bitter, rebellious girls make for more lively characters than goody-goodies, or so Metcalf surmises. Sarah has just, by the way, discovered some sort of chintzy old medallion in a dresser in the attic, where she was looking for the hidden vodka. It was given to her by her Uncle Michael right before he died under mysterious circumstances, a gift she only decides to wear now, and, we discover later, for the first time.
Sarah storms away from her mom and her younger sister Jill (Mackenzie Rossman, who you may remember as the cutest member of the Camden family on 7th Heaven), all kinds of furious that her mom is asking her where she’s going, because WHY DO YOU HAVE TO ALWAYS PRY INTO HER LIFE, MOM?!? and GOD, THIS TOWN IS SO BORING, GOD!!! and goes to meet up with Emily in front of the Eckling Manor, as there are no better, less-molester-y places to meet up and underage drink in town. Sarah’s barely able to take a swig of the undoubtedly low-grade turpentine they call their bottle of vodka before they are attacked by zombies.
Emily’s throat is bitten out, Jack-Bauer-style, her blood squirting from her open neck via some special effects that seem like Metcalf used MSPaint to color in a champagne flute’s worth of gore on Emily’s pretty little neck. Emily was a jerk anyway, so the event isn’t that shocking, though clearly unexpected. Sarah, to her credit, valiantly struggles to get away even though her best friend was just murdered on an otherwise nice night, but to the rescue comes a black-clad teenage swordfighter in a trenchcoat (Jordan Matthews) who dispatches the undead in a shower of ghoul-blood and bears a striking resemblance to Caleb form Pretty Little Liars. He introduces himself as Jacob and informs Sarah that they must start running, which gives him the perfect chance to not explain what the fuck’s going on, because: THERE’S NO TIME TO EXPLAIN.
Fading of the Cries hugs its plot to its chest, convinced that suspense comes best served in unanswered questions and red herrings. Jacob could easily explain what the fuck is going on in less than 30 seconds as they’re running from the zombies (“We’re being chased by zombies which are under the control of a necromancer pissed off by something your uncle did 14 years ago”), but he doesn’t because it would otherwise prove that the movie’s whole structure, a series of interrelated vignettes going back and forth in time, is a pointless gesture which holds no functional or symbolic weight.
So the movie then, with little sense of pace or storytelling acumen, returns 14 years into the past to show Michael discovering an old, mildew-damaged book sunken, inexplicably, into the floorboards of one of the high rooms of Eckling Manor. Reading it, he’s thrust into an ancient story of the aforementioned necromancer, Mathias (Brad Dourif), who, when his wife and child were murdered by the early villagers of this shitty little town, turns to revenge by raising three “protectors” from the nightmare world, or wherever, to, er, protect him from the villagers who he’s wreaking magical vengeance upon. Or something. If it’s even possible to get over the way everyone in this movie pronounces “necromancer” like “neh-CROM-encer” as if no one fucking bothered to double-check that shit, then you might as well ignore how Mathias’s narrative arc never once explains where his “protectors” came from, or what he did to the villagers, or how he lost his power, or why he’d carry a grudge with him into the present when, brought back to life by a grief-stricken Michael who believes he can resurrect his family through black magic, he feels slighted by Michael enough to place a curse upon Michael’s bloodline. Which is what Mathias does, because I guess messing with the forces of darkness demands punishment in some form or another? Michael, who realizes too late that he’s unleashed a capital-“E” Evil far beyond his control, attempts to inscribe symbols into the floor of Mathias’s old Magick Room (which is where he originally found the old necronomicon) in order to hopefully trap the necromancer there, is killed by a newly resurrected Mathias, who succeeds by sneaking up on Michael and kind of beating him to death with his cane. Mathias really digs beating people to death with his cane.
As the movie shifts back and forth between the present and the past, more and more is revealed about how the amulet, which Mathias calls a “rune” and has some ridiculous name I won’t even pretend to remember, both protects Sarah and somehow reawakens Mathias, who’s real pissed off that Michael apparently stole the rune from him 14 years ago and now wants it back so that he can regain his full power in order to retake “control of the night” or some shit. In fact, Mathias tells Sarah straight up that, when she confesses she doesn’t understand why Mathias wants her necklace, she can’t possibly “understand” what’s going on, because the power of the amulet surpasses any mortal comprehension. It’s like the movie’s admitting that its lack of explanation is intended, representing the crazy circumstances under which Sarah’s been suddenly thrust; you don’t understand because you shouldn’t, get it?!
Because Mathias only has power during the night, Sarah and Jacob spend that first night running from zombies who, it’s never really explained, are either the risen dead or people in the small town who are just kinda of turned into zombies. Jacob’s pretty good with his samurai sword, which Mathias later calls another ridiculous name I won’t even pretend to know how to spell (it’s something like the “Sword of Ave”), which is especially effective against Mathias’s black magic, though we’re never told why or where Jacob got it from. In a brief moment of respite, Jacob tells Sarah that his whole family was murdered by Mathias’s Protectors upon moving into the Eckling Manor not long before Mathias was resurrected, because it seems pretty easy to get murdered in that house, which you’d think would be a detriment to selling it so easily, and so now Jacob spends his days “fighting evil” with his magical sword, having assumedly been skipping school and training in an orphanage or wherever. When the sun rises and the zombies basically keel over and go to sleep, Jacob must lead Sarah back to her house, inexplicably now miles and miles away, over the river and through the woods, as well as through a cornfield, which Jacob ominously explains they must now go through, because going around will cause them to “lose the daylight,” even though they didn’t have to fucking get near a cornfield on their way out to wherever the fuck they were going.
Bullyheaded, the movie persists ever forward with the same kind of stubbornness, refusing to acknowledge inconsistencies or just complete gaping holes in logic or plot for the benefit of supporting yet another action setpiece that has about as much visual payoff as a cut-scene from Myst (which is kind of funny given that Dourif had a bit part in Myst III a decade before). Be it an army of zombies chasing the protagonists through a vast network of catacombs beneath an old church, or the climactic swordfight between Jacob and Mathias, each time Metcalf attempts something visceral or exciting we’re instead gifted with lifelessness and the pathetic din of incomprehensibly cheap special effects. Like, that catacomb chase, which bears a weird resemblance to the orc chase through the Mines of Moria in the first Lord of the Rings movie, has a budget comparable to the budget of the craft table on one day of shooting the Lord of the Rings movie, because why else would it look like this?
They’re fucking running in place! I mean, I totally understand that movie-making can become an unwieldy beast which sometimes comes unglued from a director’s hands, transforming into something no one could have ever intended, let alone hoped for, but this is the kind of thing that should have tanked a whole project. Someone should have, upon viewing even the dailies for this scene, placed his or her hand gingerly on Brian A. Metcalf’s shoulder and softly whispered, “I think it’s over, buddy.”
What’s truly disappointing about Fading of the Cries (a phrase that is uttered at the end of the movie, don’t you worry) is that it’s such a cold and tired specimen of genre filmmaking, which is pretty much like going to a brothel to eat their pie, and not because the brothel’s known for having good pie in addition to featuring a variety of people with which to have sex, but because there just happens to be pie there and upon arriving it’s clear that pie is more appealing than having sex with anyone at the brothel.
And watching Dourif lazily jingle his sword-cane-necromancer-thing back and forth to counter Jacob’s attack is similar to watching an old prostitute listlessly shimmy her saggy parts in front of you to maybe score a trick.
In the end everybody dies, except for Jill, because she’s the movie’s virgin, Sarah so obviously too much of a bad girl to not have already engaged in fornication. Jill’s at one point kidnapped by Mathias, even though Sarah gives Mathias the rune in order to ensure Jill’s freedom. This isn’t that long after Mathias seriously cracks his cane over Maggie’s head, not once but twice, which is a suddenly brutal act that plays like comic relief to an otherwise nonsensical exchange between Sarah and Mathias.
Worth noting, Mathias talks like a college freshman’s approximation of Shakespeare:
Mathias: Giveth me the rune and I promise I will set thy sister free.
Sarah: Seriously, you promise?
Mathias: I bestow upon thou my word. Both as a necromancer and as a man.
Sarah: Well, I have no other choice. Pshhhhh. OK, here you go.
[Mathias grabs the rune and then carries Jill away, beginning to slowly teleport all sorceror-like from Sarah’s kitchen, where Maggie lays unconscious on the floor, having just been thoroughly concussed by Mathias’s cane.]
Sarah: Wait a sec! You gave your word.
Mathias: Did I? Thou knows wherest to findeth me. Peace out.
And then he disappears. Jacob, who is also in the room, just, like, watching all this happen, decides, as Mathias completely disappears, to run to the part of the kitchen Mathias just filled, his reaction time pretty stilted given how he’s some sort of samurai warrior, which is like putting on your seatbelt after a car accident.
Jacob goes to Eckling Manor to save Jill while, as night descends once again, Sarah and her mom stay behind to unsuccessfully hold off the zombie hordes. It’s revealed that Jacob is actually dead, having been killed by Mathias’s Protectors back when Jacob first found his family murdered, but that Jacob is now a corporeal spirit that is a “protection spell,” because—I don’t…know. I seriously don’t fucking know. Jacob, upon saving Jill by inexplicably being able to destroy Mathias’s rune even though he couldn’t before, breaks Mathias’s control over the zombies, making them go back to “sleep,” but returns too late to Sarah and Maggie, who he finds dead. In one last heroic move (or one last grasp at vengeance?), Jacob returns to Eckling Manor to torture the now-powerless Mathias for all of eternity. This torture basically amounts to repeatedly slashing Brad Dourif in the face with his Sword of Ave, while Brad Dourif Wilhelm Screams and screams, etc., roll credits.
Dourif is easily the best thing about Fading of the Cries, and he chews scenery as effortlessly as Jeremy Irons in Dungeons & Dragons once did, but what may be unforgivably sad is that Dourif has stooped to something that so thoroughly fumbles every sense of entertainment value it attempts that it puts into question the very foundations upon which any patient human being should stay endeared to him. Dourif’s talent’s have been fumbled before, and Metcalf is far from the first or last movie-maker to completely misunderstand the strength of Dourif’s appeal, but somehow Fading of the Cries feels like a new low. Dourif was 61 when it was released. There’s still hope he’ll pull a Morgan Freeman.
Anyway, here are some more pictures of Brad Dourif mean-mugging. So that’s fun.