I came across this film back in 2012/2013 when it was initially titled, Scintilla (definition: a tiny trace or spark of a specified quality or feeling), and it still goes by that name in certain overseas markets. I then unexpectedly came across it on cable a year ago and watched it, but wasn’t all that taken with it, even though I liked the trailer. Cut to six months later when out of the blue one day it just pops into my head. It was then that I suddenly liked it. I can’t explain why but there are those flicks I’ll see, not care for, and then at some point in the future they’ll just come back to me and I’m suddenly a fan.
I already have a perfect place for it in one of my DVD towers. The plot is similar to Doom (2005), The Dark Lurking (2010), Crawlspace (2012) and Aliens (1986) (all of which I have on the same shelf) in that a team of well-trained men are sent into a confined location to find out what has happened to others, generally a research team they have lost contact with.
(Note: Before I began I need to point out the cover art (see below) . . . that creature on it is not in the movie. The Scintilla posters above represent the movie more accurately.)
In the Soviet Union there’s a research facility a half mile underground where a Dr. Irvine (Beth Winslet, actress Kate Winslet’s younger sister) has been holed up for the past seventeen years working on the Scintilla Project creating human/alien hybrids; two of them, actually, a male and a female that she’s named Goethe (Perri Hanson) and Ali (Sophie Hatfield). They pretty much look human except for their many eyes and the slits on their necks where they breathe. She acquired this alien DNA from a meteor the Soviets had in storage, and the reason why this project even exists is because the Soviets are looking to weaponize something. Naturally.
There was another scientist working under her, a Dr. Lyla Healy (Morjana Alaoui), whom she had a falling out with. She now works for “another company,” no idea how true that is since there’s no proof other than her word. But Healy states this other company wants all the data Irvine has been working on, the two specimens and Irvine dead. Sounds like classic case of homicidal disgruntled employee syndrome to me, but who am I to judge?
Apparently getting into this facility is as perilous as getting out of it, which Healy did at one point. No idea how she did it, but getting a team of mercs into the Soviet Union and through a raging civil war the leader of which who’s in full control of the buildings the underground facility is over is going to be much more than perilous.
First to assemble the team—this is where we’re introduced to Jim Powell (John Lynch) who’s currently in an African prison being tortured and scheduled to meet his fate in a firing squad, but his good friend, Harris (Ned Dennehy, Declan Cooney from the more than perfect Irish monster movie, Grabbers), comes to get him out, offer him the job and the get their old team back together. This is also where we meet Healy and Spencer (Jumayn Hunter), a private security officer who joins the team at the consternation of Powell later on when they all meet. You see Healy’s in charge so what she says goes. Another piece of out of the blue information he’s also hit with.
This is Powell’s team: Steinmann (Antonia Thomas), Mason (Craig Conway. He was the guy in the beginning of Dog Soldiers who was camping with his chick and who both got eaten), Corry (Edward Dogliani), some dude named Williams (Chris Ellis-Stanton), not sure if he was part of the original team or not, and the aforementioned, Harris.
Part of the fun is watching how the team sneaks into the encampment, then into the tunnels, then into the facility itself and finally up and out again, each chapter fraught with potential death. First, though. Harris and Williams are sent in under the guise of workers planning to fix the militia’s outdated monitors, monitors that keep tabs on the borders of the encampment and where one would go to get down into the tunnels, a certain spot that looks like an old underground hospital. Deeper down radios don’t work.
Once Harris and Williams gives the team the okay that the North Wall is not guarded they slip into the tunnels, but Irvine has set up some security of her own to make sure the militia soldiers above don’t get too nosy. Mole Rats Powell dubs them, to the untrained eye they look like bug eyed aliens in leather, but they’re really humans with these funky looking helmets and a gas mask. They wield syringes filled with a cocktail of biological agents. You get jabbed and injected you’re pretty much done. This happens to Corry, but he tells no one. He’ll disappear from the movie at some point, though Powell registers his absence just so we the audience know it isn’t some bad plot point that’s never resolved, and he’ll show up at the end crazed with a mutant arm.
If you’ve seen enough of these kinds of movies you’ll quickly assume no one will end up making it out alive, which does tend to happen, not always, but enough to make you jump to that conclusion. Not the case here, there are three survivors who at least make it to the final act, and two who get back topside. I will say when the dying starts (when they reach the facility, which in all reality looks like some kind of amphitheater) the deaths aren’t really broadcast ahead of time. I mean, yeah, you get the sense in a couple of them something is going to happen, but in all of them you never know exactly how they’re going to buy the farm, and in all the cases death isn’t by gunfire. Wait, I take that back there’s one in the final act above ground that’s by gunfire. There’s a couple of demises that are totally unexpected too, a couple of “oh-shit!” moments actually.
There are two traitors in the group. One is infinitely worse than the other. The lesser one comes out of the blue, the other one you’ll have somewhat of an idea who it will be and that person is the worst. One of the deaths that person is responsible for is quite clever, disguising it as something benign. At a certain point, though, you’ll wish someone would just put a bullet in that motherfucker’s head. A bullet in the chest is what actually takes this person down. Surprisingly I liked all the characters, even the lesser traitor who does see the error of his ways later on.
There is CGI in this flick and aside from the funky eyes of the aliens and their throat slits all of it is mostly for the bloody deaths. Goethe created a hand held weapon that seems to use sonic waves to blow human heads and a bodies into pieces. All the CGI looked competent to me.
The ending is similar to how Crawlspace (2012) ends—that’s all I’m going to say about that.
Mongrel Media (Canada) had this on DVD for some time, but since they’re Canadian based it was only available on Amazon Canada’s site. That DVD is now out of print and replaced with this one (buy here on Amazon), which is, I presume, an exact copy. They partnered up with MVD Entertainment to finally give this movie a disc release down here in the States back on December 13th. As of this review there’s still no blu-ray in existence.
Video/Audio/Subtitles: 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen—5.1 English Dolby Digital, French Dolby Digital Stereo—no subtitles.
The main menu gives you only two options, to watch the movie with English audio or French audio. Switching between them during the movie can’t be done. You have to go back to the main menu to do that.
Extras included . . .
Since there are no extras on the U.S. DVD (not sure about the overseas versions) here are a few quick interviews with the director and three cast members I found on Scintilla’s Facebook page: