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Review: BLACK OPS (2019)

Previously known as Stairs and The Ascent, the latest film from writer/director Tom Paton (Pandorica, 400 Bullets) has now been re-titled Black Ops. This not only makes it sound like a sequel to his film Black Site but sounds a lot like a popular video game franchise. An association the poster certainly encourages. But what the movie delivers is something else again.

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A team of mercenaries is on a mission. Wipe out an enemy camp and seize any intel in it. They run into a snag when they find a hostage (Julia Szamalek) in one of the tents. An argument breaks out between Clarke (Samantha Schnitzler, Wicked Witches) who says they can’t just shoot civilians and team leader Stanton (Shayne Ward, Coronation Street) who demands they follow orders. Clarke, herself at gunpoint is forced to execute the woman. On their way to the extraction point, they are ordered not to intervene in the killing of other civilians.

Back home, they arrive at headquarters for their debriefing. The elevator breaks down so they have to use the stairs. It’s going to be a long climb. The only doors they find lead them back to the scene of their mission. And something that looks like the bloody corpse of their victim is behind them, forcing them to keep climbing.

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Black Ops is the horrific cousin to the Tom Cruise film Edge Of Tomorrow, they even share an actor, Bentley Kalu (Kill Command, Jesus Shows You the Way to the Highway). The team is forced to relive the events of that mission over and over. Forced to face up to their actions and find a way to rectify them. But can they figure out what to do before the constant climbing and returns to the battlefield finish them off? Some of them can’t even be convinced they did anything wrong.

Paton does a good job of staging the film’s action sequences on what was a lowish budget. Being able to reuse some of the scenes multiple times obviously let him stretch his budget. As did using a staircase as the film’s main set. Smartly not trying to do anything to fancy in the battlefield scenes, he keeps them realistic and convincing. Black Ops numerous hand-to-hand brawls and knife fights are quite well done as well. After his last two films, I’m curious to see what he could do with a straight-up action film.

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Granted, the ghost stalking the team isn’t the creepiest thing I’ve seen lately. But the horror in Black Ops comes more from the situation the characters find themselves in. One they’ve created themselves and must find their own way out of. “‘I said I’d follow you into Hell, but I never expected you actually to take us there” one character tells Stanton. But if this is hell, it’s one of their own makings.

Samuel Goldwyn Films will release Black Ops June 12th on VOD.

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