WHAT'S IT ABOUT?
Engineer Kyle LeBlanc (Van Damme) is sent to a shithole Russian prison after offing his wife’s murderer. Once there, he must battle for his life in prisoner vs. prisoner fights and must also struggle to find his inner-self again. J-C’s back!
IS IT A GOOD MOVIE?
Reading the plot outline to IN HELL, it would be easy to assume that it’s just another typical Jean-Claude Van Damme fancy kicks, buttock shots, big guns festival. But much to my surprise, it wound up being a deep, gritty, poignant, intense and mature picture instead. Who knew? After the abysmal DERAILED (his worst film along with STREETFIGHTER), the Muscles from Brussels returns to top form in what is his best movie since REPLICANT and probably his strongest performance ever. This bitter pill punched hard with its unrestrained display of human ugliness, gripping symbolism and brutal violence which itself was dipped in philosophy and a sadness stricken aura. The film’s “ace” though was that it played it mainly as an engaging character-driven piece about one man’s loss of his soul and his tortuous journey in prison to regain it. Thankfully, J-C was up to the task. I felt his character’s pain, gulped a few times and was rooting for the main man the whole way.
Visually, the movie also came out a big winner with its strong showing of exquisite photography, stylish/creative shots and an intoxicating morbid atmosphere. Think David Fincher (SE7EN) like. And the fight sequences, you may ask? Well, we’re treated to a different flavor than the usual Van Damme here. Gone are the “show off” aerial kicks that wouldn’t hold up in a real fight and present is a more grounded style of fighting that reinforced the film’s realism and emotional impact. Sadly, parts of the script weren’t up to par. Without the minor plot holes, the various “prison movie” clichés, the obvious devices to communicate substance and the tacky “ghost” appearance, the flick would’ve reached a higher level of quality. But in the end, I was still genuinely moved, impressed and highly entertained by IN HELL. It transcended its faults and affected me on many levels. Way to go, Jean-Claude!
Featurette (15 minutes): This slickly edited featurette takes us on set to witness some behind the scenes footage, the making of the special effects and interviews with cast and crew. Although not as rich in info as I would’ve liked, I still appreciated this feature, mainly because I enjoyed the film and would’ve lapped up any trivia on it.
We also get the IN HELL Trailer.
This is Van Damme’s third go around with director Ringo Lam (they did the underrated MAXIMUM RISK and the solid REPLICANT together) and it’s also a winner. That’s what I’m talking about! IN HELL made this Van Damme fan a very happy kickboxer. Closer to THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION than BLOODSPORT, I applaud Jean-Claude for doing this movie. His aim at maturity as an actor first and action star second is the right path to take at this point in his faltering career. Sure, parts of the screenplay for this flick were weak and the disc itself included nothing over which to do the splits, but I still encourage Van Damme fans and action/drama lovers to rent it. It hit the mark hard more times than none via its strong helping of weighty drama, able acting, exciting action and tight visuals. Oh and Jean-Claude, keep Ringo Lam on your side! It’s working, bro!