The Rift (1990)
"The danger below is now the danger within"
An experimental submarine, the Siren II, is sent to find out what happened to the Siren I, which mysteriously disappeared in a deep ocean rift. There the crew find that the sub had been conducting top secret testing of biological weapons, inadvertently mutating the flora and fauna in the process and turning once-passive creatures and plants into deadly animals.
The Rift is another of the undersea monster rip-offs that popped up around the time of James Cameron’s The Abyss (Leviathan and DeepStar Six being two of the more famous), as everyone thought they were going to steal a march on the bigger budgeted outing and cash-in on it’s success, only to realise the end product wasn’t anything like what they were expecting it to be. Basically Aliens underwater with a submarine rather than a spaceship and an underwater world that looks more like an alien planet than it does the bottom of the Pacific, The Rift is the ultimate nadir of this fleeting sub-genre.
Being so heavily ‘inspired’ by James Cameron’s sci-fi classic, The Rift is happy to replicate as much of it as possible with only half as much of the budget and half as much as the skill both in front and behind the camera. As well as the overriding story of the crew going investigating some remote place, there’s a whole host of other Aliens ideas. Stereotyped crew of mostly cannon fodder one-note grunts? Check. Slimy corporate type who tries to sabotage the mission in order to bring some samples back? Check. Mommy mutant not happy with the crew tampering with her eggs? Check. There are set pieces plagiarised too (more on that later). At least Leviathan and DeepStar Six weren’t as shameful in their approach as The Rift is.
The Rift does what it can with the measly budget it’s been given though, which is to say, not much at all. The first half of the film is your typical submarine thriller set-up – lots of people cooped up in an enclosed space with lots of shady goings on in the background is going to lead some tension and bickering and this is where The Rift tries to keep the production costs low so that it can save the money in the bank for the second half. I’d guess that at least two thirds of the total running take place on board the Siren II on the same two or three sets. Its minimal effort for minimal gain. I’m not quite sure the purpose of so much character confrontation and development here as it goes out of the airlock when the monsters start turning up, Although released in 1990 and well-before they were a thing, The Rift reminded me of a release from studio and distributor The Asylum – creators of such sheer rubbish such as Mega Shark Vs Mecha Shark and so on. They have built up a substantial portfolio of monster movies in which you hardly see any monster action and the majority of the screen time is taken up by military types and scientists standing around on a dimly-lit set (usually a bridge or control room of something) reacting to what they see on monitors, screens and computer readouts. That’s exactly what The Rift does. During the film’s ‘best’ action sequence, the scenes of the crew running around the cave and shooting monsters whilst being attacked (which will remind you of the far superior first alien attack in Aliens) is interspliced with scenes of the people on board the sub just watching the life-signs of the crew die off on the screen and hearing the commotion over the intercom. Only the ratio is way more ‘reaction’ footage than there is ‘action’ footage. And I use those terms loosely as the action is hardly exhilarating whilst the reactions are just actors standing around gawping at the screen.
Cost-cutting in some areas does allow for a greater scope in others. It’s clear that the budget didn’t stretch far enough for some convincing underwater sequences involving the submarine, which just looks like a toy floating around an aquarium. Where the money does go is into the blood, gore and make-up effects for the second half of the film when the crew start exploring the rift on foot and stumble upon a horde of nasty creatures. One particular head-explosion seems to have contained three quarters of the film’s gore quota. The monsters are cheap and nasty but there’s a lot of variety in them so in order for the cast to die off, they need to face different scenarios. The link between them all is some form of mutagen which mutates the host, virtually a killer seaweed as I’ve heard it described. This leads to some gruesome transformations as the characters become exposed to the mutagen and it has the same effect in mutating them as it did the flora and fauna underwater.
There a few character actors in here such as Ray Wise and R. Lee Ermey who at least put in a shift to try and give some life to the material. Ermey was just a quality character actor (albeit stereotyped into the same kind of role) who you naturally listen to out of respect (and fear) for the utmost authority he manages to convey with his tone of voice. Wise is a dependable hand and like he does in most films I’ve seen him in, his character slowly gets crazier and more bug-eyed as the film progresses. Jack Scalia and Deborah Adair are generic B-movie lead material – no better or worse than the material but totally eclipsed by the better supporting players.
The Rift is a feeble underwater riff on Aliens and if you’ve seen that, you’ll know exactly how and where this one pans out, removing any real tension and intrigue – not that there was much to begin with. No amount of blood, slime or cheap rubber monsters will make that any better, though they do help a little.
Also Known As: Endless Descent
Director(s): Juan Piquer Simón
Writer(s): Juan Piquer Simón (story), Mark Klein (story), David Coleman (screenplay)
Actor(s): Jack Scalia, R. Lee Ermey, Ray Wise, Deborah Adair, John Toles-Bey, Ely Pouget
Duration: 83 mins