Writer/Director David Twohy
Over the last 20 years, writer/director David Twohy has embraced the dark side like few other filmmakers. Of the 15 or so projects he's worked on during that span, only G.I. JANE stands as the non-sci-fi or horror project...with everything else under his resume ranging from CRITTERS to WARLOCKS...from gnarly creature-features (big and small) to conspiratorial alien-incursions. Dude's dedicated to the darkness, and we straight up love him for that! As you may know, Twohy reteams with Vin Diesel to continue what has become his creative calling card. After writing and directing PITCH BLACK in 2000 and CHRONICLES OF RIDDICK in 2004, the much waited for sequel RIDDICK finally hits theaters September 6th, and it looks pretty badass. Perfect timing then to pull out the scope and examine Twohy's body of work at the molecular level. You down? Good. Ladies and gents, we present to you Mr. David Twohy!
I truly believe Twohy's best made film is the 2002 haunted submarine flick BELOW, which, as sadly under-viewed as it is, really could double as Twohy's hidden gem as well (we'll limit it to just the former for now). With a script co-inked by Darren Aronofsky, BELOW tales the insolated story of a WWII submarine crew that suffers supreme psychological torment in the wake of an unknown presence just below the surface. Are the crew members really experiencing something extraterrestrial, something menacing, or is the endless claustrophobia and stir-crazy cabin-fever mentality stirring phantom projections in one another? Deftly towing the line of such ambiguity is what makes BELOW so strong, and it's the mystery and intrigue that compels as greatly as the out-and-out visual violence. A smart script coupled with a very solid cast give the film a plausibility that, in the wrong hands, could have come off as a silly haunted-boat B-movie. Instead we get a measured, deeply engrossing tale with layers slowly peeled back to keep the audience off balance.
Starring Bruce Greenwood, Olivia Williams and a pre-HANGOVER Zach Galifianakis - it's the dependable yet eclectic cast that keeps BELOW fresh, despite its inescapably drab single-setting. It's extremely difficult to keep a movie fluid and flowing given such physical limitations, and Twohy's direction is admirable in that regard. Interestingly, Aronofsky was slated to direct BELOW himself in 1999, but opted to make REQUIEM FOR A DREAM instead. And while I have no doubt it still would have been a dope flick, I'm not sure D.A. yet had the chops to direct as skillfully restrained as Twohy ended up showcasing. Even more trivially, Twohy's cameo as ship captain was directed by his ensemble of actors, who made David do 26 takes of his 8-word performance. Payback's a bitch!
Although I found it somewhat of a guilty pleasure, it's pretty clear A PERFECT GETAWAY is Twohy's weakest directorial effort. Why? Likely the rote paint-by-numbers and predictable nature of the story. Trust me, I love a good murder-mystery, especially an island-set whodunit (Poirot yo!), but this one, despite having some good actors and a handful of solid scenes, was way too easy to call by the halfway point. It was too telegraphed, with twists along the way that felt too forced to believe. Absurd really. So absurd it starts to become a so-bad-it's-good proposition, but then the final revelation sort of f*cks that up too. Unfortunate, as Steve Zahn and Tim Olyphant usually choose better projects. Even so, they're fun to watch here, so too are the radiant Milla Jovovich and Kiele Sanchez...and the Hawaiian setting for that matter. But whereas BELOW kept the audience off-kilter and in the dark, thereby building suspense throughout, A PERFECT GETAWAY largely failed to do so.
Considering he's nursed this sucker from conception to a third trimester, the name RIDDICK is likely to show up on David Twohy's headstone. It's his baby. His trademark. His brand. And to me the most impressive thing about Twohy's RIDDICK brand is that, for the most part, it's a completely original property. Twohy co-created the character with the Wheat brothers (Jim and Ken), and structured the character's arc through a trio of films like most mega-popular, tie-in franchises do. Thing is, with RIDDICK there was no preexisting source material to base the character on - no comics, graphic novels, books, TV adaptations or videogames - the characters and world he inhabits was created completely out of thin air, which makes its success that much more admirable. Risks were taken with such a creation, especially in the casting of relative unknown Vin Diesel, who only had 3 or 4 credits prior to being cast as RIDDICK. Indeed, Twohy has hatched a manmade franchise without the help of a built-in fan base. Mighty impressive, Dave!
Of course, in a more general sense, one can just as easily cite extraterrestrials as Twohy's go to trademark. Whether in B-movie horror schlock like CRITTERS 2 and WARLOCK (which Twohy wrote), or his directorial debut TIMESCAPE, scripts he wrote for those absurd mid-90s Charlie Sheen pictures THE ARRIVAL and TERMINAL VELOCITY, the through-line is clear. Hell, even in that 2001 movie he wrote called IMPOSTER, and obviously in his RIDDICK franchise...aliens and otherworldly creatures often take center stage. In fact, in 1988 Twohy wrote a script for ALIEN 3 that was rejected. Then after the success of PITCH BLACK in 2000, Fox wanted Twohy to write and direct AVP: ALIEN VS. PREDATOR, but Twohy turned it down due to a scheduling snafu.
Mentioned briefly above, I say we excavate Twohy's 1992 directorial debut TIMESCAPE as the man's hidden gem. Adapted from the Henry Kuttner and C.L. Moore's novella, the great Jeff Daniels stars in the film as a widower in the middle of renovating a new Inn with his daughter. When a mysterious woman shows up soliciting lodging for her and her fellow "travelers," a series of threatening otherworldly events transpire, and it's up to Daniels to more or less save the day. The flick doesn't reinvent the wheel by any means, but for a first feature, it shows tremendous promise through its handful of suspenseful sequences. A deft hand at action scenes was demonstrated, as was the solid pre-CG FX work 1992 would afford. But most importantly, it has a very buyable turn by Jeff Daniels, who easily elevates the material above total B-movie dreck. It also established Twohy's career long theme of alien visitation and threat rendered therein. Not for the lack of quality, I instead attribute the films buried status to the clunky original title of GRAND TOUR: DISASTER IN TIME. TIMESCAPE is a much better title, and a much better movie than people know.
Aside from being very loosely attached to write THE BRAZILIAN JOB, all eyes are now on Twohy's most imminent project, RIDDICK. Vin Diesel returns as the titular badass, as does Karl Urban as Vaako and newcomer Katie Sackhoff. We've been tracking this sucker at AITH ever since early sketches and concept art was kicking around on the net, so consider us extra pumped! It's been 9 years since CHRONICLES OF RIDDICK came out, so the technology in the film is likely to be advanced by a decade...both a good and bad proposition. Hopefully Twohy uses CG judiciously. As for the story, peep the plot-crunch:
Betrayed by his own kind and left for dead on a desolate planet, Riddick fights for survival against alien predators and becomes more powerful and dangerous than ever before. Soon bounty hunters from throughout the galaxy descend on Riddick only to find themselves pawns in his greater scheme for revenge. With his enemies right where he wants them, Riddick unleashes a vicious attack of vengeance before returning to his home planet of Furya to save it from destruction.
Sounds like a big pair of tits to me. And upon doing a quick budget glance, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that RIDDICK has scaled WAY down in order to more closely mirror the original. PITCH BLACK cost $23 million to make, CHRONICLES cost $105 million. Wisely, RIDDICK has a budget of roughly $38 million...which should give it a much leaner, stripped down story that isn't hampered by lame ass pyrotechnics and lavish set-pieces we can all tell is fake. To me that's where CHRONICLES missed the mark, by going too big, too bold, too extreme in its production. Simpler is better, and my guess is Twohy and Diesel get back to basics in the best way possible. Oh, and last but not least, where as CHRONICLES was rated PG-13 to appeal to the masses, RIDDICK is rated R for strong violence, language and some sexual content/nudity (as PITCH BLACK was). Altogether now...F*CK YES!!!
Not only is David Twohy responsible for the standalone RIDDICK franchise, thankfully so, the dude's utter dedication to dark genre material is second to none. Themes of lost identity, otherness, alien life and extraterrestrial inhabitation can be found in each and every film he's directed, and most of the projects he's written as well (it's worth noting Twohy also contributed to the superb script for THE FUGITIVE, which also had a lead character dealing with identity issues). Twohy constantly embraces large-scale mystery, more often than not exploring grand questions of the unknown. Additionally, Twohy became as competent a director as he was a writer, with RIDDICK marking his 7th helmed feature since 1992. In know I speak for most when I say we can't f*ckin' wait to see what he has up his sleeve post-RIDDICK.