The Rift (1990)

The Rift

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AKA: Endless Descent

A submarine designer is being blamed for the malfunction and disappearance of one of his new experimental subs somewhere in the depths of the ocean. He blames any of the subs issues on the company that hired him, due to all their meddling with his original designs. But like any good evil corporation they deny any wrongdoing, and then for good measure they also blackmail him into going along with a crew on another one of his subs to conduct a rescue mission for the first missing submarine. The Evil Corporation claims that it’s just supposed to be a very simple search and rescue operation, but as with all things involving experimental devices and questionable corporations, nothing about this excursion is exactly what it appears to be. So naturally things go awry, and unbeknownst to the designer and the ship’s crew, they’re about to walk into a much more dangerous situation than any of them were prepared for.

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The Rift is an underwater action/horror film from 1990, and is another one of the six such similarly themed underwater films released around that same year, alongside James Cameron’s A-list headliner The Abyss, and the B-list outings Lords of the Deep, The Evil Below, Leviathan and Deepstar Six. Having now seen most of these films, quality-wise, I’m afraid that I’d have to place The Rift somewhere near the bottom of a murky kiddie pool along with Lords of the Deep. While all of the film’s have their own issues (With The Abyss’s being that it’s just far too friggin’ loooong), poor The Rift seems to have more than its fair share of tiny dings against it, to the point where it just becomes very hard to recommend.

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They forgot to add “Alteration Request Denied”, a crucial plot point, to the screen while they were filming and had to add it in post. That’s the kind of film this is.

The film’s biggest issue is its story, which is, sadly, all over the damn place. Not only are parts of the film’s plot full of holes big enough to drive a submarine through, but others seem to be stitched together, piecemeal, from other movies. You’ve got a shady corporation and a crew saboteur like in Alien. A bunch of creepy, genetically engineered, human-eating monsters like in Aliens. And of course a big underwater mystery to solve like in Abyss. So basically, the film is trying to ride on the coattails of Ridley Scott and James Cameron, but hey, I guess if you’re going to ape someone’s movies, you might as well choose people who at least appear to know what they’re doing. Of course, the downside of stealing plot-lines from popular movies is that most of your audience has likely seen them, so they’re going to be able to spot and predict all your plot points well before you want them too, and thus kill any suspense your movie had. Not that stealing other film’s plot points hasn’t been done before effectively, but naturally it helps if you actually know what you’re doing, and don’t do something monumentally stupid, like, say, telegraph the identity of the saboteur less than fifteen minutes into the story, thus killing all the potential tension you could have built. And of course, it would be even dumber to then have that saboteur then unnecessarily reveal himself to the remaining crew at the end, when they could have just as easily remained hidden amongst the survivors and either quietly escaped undetected or have them just pretend that nothing happened. I mean, no one would be that dumb, right?…

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Pfft. Don’t be fucking silly. Of course they were that dumb. They were also dumb enough to shoehorn in an awkwardly forced romance angle, and tried to convince us that the rougish-looking sub designer was also some sort of weekend action hero. You know what, movie, I don’t care how much of a heartthrob Jack Scalia was in the 1980’s, I ain’t buying it. His greatest achievement up to this point seems to have been being pushed off a balcony to his death by Larry Hagman, so I don’t believe for one second that he’d be able to save me during a crisis. Oh, and did I mention that the movie goes out of its way to make sure you know that the Evil Corporation is evil, but that it never bothers to explain any of its evil motivations? Like, why were they doing all this genetic testing? What was the goal? Why were they doing it at the bottom of the ocean? What was the sudden need for all the special submarines when it was obvious that they’d been doing these experiments for years? There’s just so many questions that the movie just casually drops at your feet and then never bothers to answer. Something tells me that crap like this is what you get when you’ve got a quickie English script being produced by an impatient Italian producer trying to rush a project through to completion, along with a Spanish director, and both of them needing translated scripts because neither one of them were able to speak a lick of English. And considering that producer De Laurentiis pushed The Rift through only a scant year after his last film, Leviathan (yes, that Leviathan), hit theaters, you know all those re-writes and necessary translations for the Spanish production crew and actors were undoubtedly a rush job. Not that taking their time would have necessarily helped, since some of the other film’s under director Juan Piquer Simón’s belt include Supersonic Man and The Pod People, both of which have been famously spoofed by Rifftrax and Mystery Science Theater 3000, respectively (His one success with the cult film Pieces notwithstanding). So while it might not be the worst of his ouver, the film was still likely doomed from the start. But on the bright side the film has a lot of action set-pieces, so the movie rushes along fast enough so that it doesn’t dawdle on any one questionable plot detail too long before barreling headfirst into the next one. But really though, they’re just likely hoping everything goes by so quickly that you don’t have time to notice.

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Considering the quality of the plot, I’m actually surprised that the acting is as good as it is. Oh, did I say good? I meant, mediocre, which is still better than a movie like this deserves. Not even an unhinged Ray Wise could liven this thing up, and most of the secondary cast is filled with Spanish actors whose only job is to stand around, spit out a couple of dubbed lines and die (relatively) quickly. The only standout, and perhaps the only reason to watch this movie, is the ever dependable R. Lee Ermy, who plays the stiff-upper lip Captain Phillips, and who, even in one of the most subdued roles I’ve seen him in, still manages to act circles around all of his co-stars. Bless that man and his reliability to entertain.

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Gods, do I miss him.

The one place in the film where people are the least likely to complain are the creature and gore effects (just to note, most of the submarine and underwater effects totally SUCK). At least partial credit for this goes to Colin Arthur, Emilio Ruiz del Río and Francisco Prosper, who all had long film careers spanning decades, most notably working on movies like 2001: A Space Odyssey, Conan the Barbarian, Edge of the Axe, The Neverending Story, The Devil’s Backbone, and Pan’s Labyrinth. So at the very least all of the gory, blood bits (few though there are) look realistic and the creatures all look pretty cool. In fact, the giant monster model they show at the end almost makes the rest of the film worth it. It’s just too bad we only get a chance to see it for a scant few seconds. The gloriously cheesy beastie deserved far more time than that.

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Roar, I say. Roar.

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The Rift is the type of movie that you end up wanting to like more than you do, but so much of it is just such a hot mess that it makes it really hard to do. Parts of it, like the effects towards the end, are GREAT. But getting to that point seems like a chore and in the end, it doesn’t feel worth it. You’re forced to sit through over 40-minutes of poor acting, stilted dialogue and murky special effects, all the while waiting for the film to finally reveal what the shoddily telegraphed “mystery” is that the crew is inevitably going to run into, only for the film to throw a half-dozen quick action scenes at you in rapid succession, bombard you with even more mysteries and questions, and then end abruptly before bothering to answer any of them. It’s actually quite irritating. Even more-so when you realize there were actually a couple decent ideas in that half-assed script that weren’t copied from other films and they STILL didn’t bother to address them. Oh well. At least parts of the ending were semi-entertaining. It’s just a shame the production seems to have been so rushed, because with a little more time and effort they could have had a really decent B-movie on their hands. If you’re a fan of monster movies, and are in it solely for the monster effects, then The Rift should be worth at least one watch. Just be sure to prepare yourself for the long wait.

The Rift is available on a variety of streaming services.

The Rift is also available on DVD and Bluray.

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Michi

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