With Kate Beckinsale, Michael Ealy, India Eisley, Stephen Rea, Charles Dance. Written by Len Wiseman & John Hlavin and J. Michael Straczynski and Allison Burnett. Directed by Måns Mårlind, Björn Stein. Rated R (for strong violence and gore, and for some language). 88 minutes.
The “Underworld” series may consist of action packed B-movies, but they certainly are ambitious. In creating a new and evolving mythology involving both vampires and werewolves, it provides plenty of opportunities for the two classic monsters to go at it. This fourth film in the series shows no sign of slowing down.
UNDERWORLD: AWAKENING opens with a recap in which we learn (or are reminded) of the long-running battle between the vampires and the Lycans, as the werewolves are called. The discovery of a hybrid vampire/Lycan may have changed everything. Our heroine, vampire Selene (Kate Beckinsale) was all set to run off with hybrid Michael when they were ambushed by humans trying to eradicate both monsters.
Twelve years pass. Selene awakes from being frozen in suspended animation at some research facility called Antigen and finds that things have changed for the worse. Both vampires and Lycans are nearly extinct, and it’s not clear why she was being preserved. We learn things as she does but not everything she is told turns out to be true. When we finally get the full story, things turn out to be a lot more complicated.
One of the mysteries has to do with the discovery of Eve (India Eisley), a 12-year-old girl who seems to be a natural hybrid. What’s her story? Do the math. It turns out she’s the key to the battle between the vampires now led by Thomas (Charles Dance), who want nothing to do with her, and the Lycans, who want to capture her by any means necessary. Kindly Dr. Lane (Stephen Rea), who tells the public there is no cure for vampirism or lycanthropy, seems to have his own agenda which is slowly revealed.
This is pulp horror with a dollop of science fiction, especially when we learn the nature of Dr. Lane’s experiments, with the cast elevating the material above the gore and CGI effects. Besides the classy Beckinsale, Dance, and Rea, there’s also Michael Ealy as the police detective on the case who turns out to have a surprising bit of sympathy for Selene. In addition, the appearance of J. Michael Straczynski (of “Babylon 5” fame) among the writing credits makes one wonder how much of the film’s intelligence derives from his contributions.
“Underworld: Awakening” isn’t an A-List SF/horror entry but, like the other films in the series, is surprisingly better than you might expect from a movie being released with no press screenings, usually a sign the distributor has no faith in its prospects after opening weekend. Although the set up for number five is inevitable, this entry delivers the goods. After seeing this, chances are viewers will be well-primed and howling to see the next one.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books, the most recent being Jar Jar Binks Must Die… And Other Observations About Science Fiction Movies. He teaches film at Suffolk University and lives in Somerville.