Paragraph 78 (2007)

Rating: C-

Dir: Mikhail Khleborodov
Star: Gosha Kutsenko, Vladimir Vdovichenko, Anastasia Slanevskaya, Grigory Siyatvinda

This took rather more effort than it should have. Firstly, it’s a two-part movie for some reason: it could easily have been combined into one, with a perfectly adequate running-time. Worse, though both parts are on Tubi, the hard-coded subtitles on the first drift increasingly out of sync with the dialogue. By the end, they appear in completely different scenes: it looks like Tubi maybe used PAL subs on an NTSC print, and didn’t adjust for the difference in speed. So, I ended up finding the film in raw Russian on Youtube, downloading it from there, then matching it up with the correct set of subs. I really should not have to be doing this. While the second part had the right subs, I don’t feel it was worth the effort.

It’s not a bad set-up. Five years earlier, military commander Gudvin (Kutsenko) saw his special ops team fall apart in a welter of mistrust. Now, he’s been ordered to put the band back together, including the man he had court-martialled, Skif (Vdovichenko) and Lisa (Slanevskaya), the woman over whom they fought, and who ended up picking Gudvin. This dubious group are sent to a remote island, to investigate a WMD research base that shouldn’t exist, being in breach of international treaties, but which just set off an emergency beacon. On arrival, they find the place not exactly teeming with life. Indeed, everyone appears dead or infected with some kind of nasty disease – the latter meaning the team are now quarantined, and unable to leave.

This all takes place in the first movie, which does a decent enough job of drawing the characters, even if one does seem to be channeling Lister from Red Dwarf. It does all feel remarkably derivative: the main influences would be Aliens, The Thing and Resident Evil. However, there’s worse movies to lift from, and Khleborodov has some visual style, I believe he was a music video director, so brings some of that panache to his work here. The problem is much more the second half of the film, where I kept expecting something to happen: it doesn’t, and by something, I mean “anything”.

No, really. They sit around, bicker and eventually end up getting in serious fights with each other. Again, Khleborodov’s eye manages to stage and shoot these battles in interesting ways. There’s one which feels as if was significantly influenced by the gun kata in Equilibrium, with the two participants firing and dodging at point-blank range. This is not something I expected to see in a Russian movie. However, there’s about ten minutes of content in a ninety minute film, before an ending which doesn’t make much sense and is remarkable mostly for how unsatisfying it is. Certainly, of all the ways the second half could potentially have headed, it feels like the makers picked the most uninteresting. Even the least of the inspirations is considerably more satisfying than this dodgy Russian knock-off.