Black Site, not to be confused with Tom Paton’s Black Site, was directed by Sophia Banks, co-written by Jinder Ho and John Collee (Master and Commander, Hotel Mumbai) and stars Michelle Monaghan (Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Patriots Day), Jason Clarke (Texas Killing Fields, Zero Dark Thirty), Phoenix Raei (Clickbait, Stateless), Fayssal Bazzi (6 Days, Cedar Boys), Simon Elrahi (Alex & Eve, Street Smart), Uli Latukefu (Young Rock, The Legend of Baron To’a), and Jai Courtney (Suicide Squad, Terminator: Genisys). It’s about a group of agents from various countries attempting to recapture a high-value target who escapes his cell and begins wreaking havoc on the people manning the detention site.
The Plot: If you inverted Die Hard’s basic premise, you’d have Black Site. That alone makes for a fun idea, but the script tries to add some politics and mystery into the mix, which doesn’t have the narrative flair or the subtlety to make either remarkable.
A series of attacks on the public in Istanbul has resulted in almost 200 casualties, among them are the husband and daughter of CIA agent Abby (Monaghan). With no one claiming responsibility for the attacks, Abby seeks answers and is transferred to the Citadel, a black site that houses intelligence agents and suspects of all sorts from around the world. One of those suspects is Farhan (Elrahi) who she questions, and her colleague Miller (Courtney) interrogates, for the next 10 months. Banks glosses over all of the setup and doesn’t let the audience get acquainted with the links to the bombings, leaving questions hanging in the air that never get resolved
On her last week (of course), a team of agents move on Hatchet (Clarke) and bring him back to the Citadel. Mossad agent Uri (Raei) suggests having another conversation with Farhan in the meantime. When Hatchet arrives, it’s revealed that the CIA has given the first crack at Hatchet to Palau (Latukefu), much to the chagrin of Citadel overseer Rashid (Bazzi).
This is a flimsy way to allow Hatchet to escape, which he does, and begins to pick off the staff to execute his own plan. All the way to the end of the movie, it plays out how most would expect. Collee tries to add a ticking clock element with Hatchet triggering a failsafe explosive to destroy the site, which has an interesting part to play in Hatchet’s plan
The first act struggles with clarity and the other two acts aren’t all that surprising or even that well executed. It works as a segue into the thrills but doesn’t enhance them with stakes.
The Characters: Black Site suggests some impending development for its leading woman but doesn’t follow through at any point later on. It’s content to stick with sketches instead of fleshing anything out.
Abby’s introduction may be swift, with the aftermath of the bombing played over the credits, but the movie does manage to get a moderately touching eulogy for her family in shortly after. She’s devoted to figuring out who performed the act, but not if it means disobeying authority. Instead of allowing her to organically come to distrust her orders, she does a heel turn and begins questioning everything, which ends her arc before it starts.
Hatchet is the only interesting character, with his motivations and connections shrouded in mystery for much of the runtime. He has worked with the Syrians, Russians, Iraqis, and probably more. Little dialogue is espoused from his mouth, which gives him a cold presence that’s only enlivened by his vicious attacks. For most of the movie, he’s thin, but the question of his goals and relation to the Istanbul bombings makes him an interesting unknown.
Other assorted agents like Miller, Uri, and Rashid litter the Citadel, but they may as well not have had names or scenes surrounding them as there isn’t anything to make them discernable from one another. Miller is absurdly jingoistic and violent in a sharp but lazy contrast to Abby. Uri is shadowy and collected but insists the Citadel act in accordance with his methods, and Rashid is a blank prerequisite authority figure.
Surprisingly, the villain is the bright spark out of the Black Site’s cast, despite his limited dialogue. Hatchet has a presence, which is more than can be said for anyone else.
The Thrills: It takes a little bit for Black Site to start rolling out its suspense building but once the movie reaches Hatchet’s escape, it manages to provide some above-average thriller moments.
Before the Delta team brings in the man that they’ve all been looking for, there’s some superstition surrounding Hatchet, with some of the agents discussing rumours about the knife he always uses and the brutality he shows with it. It’s a decent way to drum up anticipation for the impending chaos. Once he arrives, the movie adds more fuel to that rumour mill, as he doesn’t make a sound during his torture from Palau but stumbles a bit as the audience doesn’t get to see his escape, which seems like Collee wrote himself into a corner.
Brutality ensues quickly, with Hatchet jolting the picture to life in short order. His first order of business is to camouflage himself as an agent taking the wounded to the medical bay where he stabs the absolute hell out of three people in a bloody and rage-filled scene that confirms what everyone has heard about the man. When he’s not turning people into mincemeat, he sets traps with C4, releases the other prisoners to delay Abby and company, and cuts off all outside communications. It’s entertaining watching the man be so thorough, although it does beg the question as to how he knows the layout of the Citadel.
It’s not all successful though, as Black Site tries to pit Abby and Miller against one another when everyone against Hatchet is more than enough to retain attention. Other missteps include cameras conveniently going out on certain levels (why wouldn’t this top-secret site have better CCTV?) and a late twist that doesn’t add anything to the preceding events.
More than a few solid thriller sequences are present here, with the maze-like location lending itself to the premise, but there are occasional stumbles and holes that dent the final product.
The Technics: With producers like Basil Iwanyk (John Wick franchise, Clash of the Titans) and Alastair Burlingham (Midway, Boss Level) backing this movie, it’s too the surprise of no one that Black Site is a slick piece of filmmaking.
While the Citadel is largely grey and rigid, it’s not lit with little effort. There’s some neon lighting in server rooms, the rec room, and an office, and everything in between has a sheen to it that keeps the location from feeling too drab. It can get hard to follow the geography of the place, but that’s partially by design, as to play up the labyrinthine feel.
Most of the problems stem from the Black Site’s script and pacing. Banks directs with a weirdly rushed way, spewing exposition for the first 10 minutes, too eager to get to the manhunt which leads to frontloading the story, which rapidly slows down in detailing. Dialogue is also problematic, with the actors forced to deliver lines like “This is mutiny” and “Former active duty. You gave up your army rank when you joined here as a private contractor.” which clearly have trouble with blatant exposition.
Black Site lacks a memorable story and characters, with its villain being the sole exception. It partially makes up for that with very good technical elements and some good thriller moments that express creativity.