BLACK OPS: Stairway to Hell

Military films are a dime a Dirty Dozen. A squad of troops has to complete a mission that seems simple on the surface, but then things go haywire. In a way, the source of suspense is not unlike a horror film… Who will survive in the end?

In Black Ops, writer-director Tom Paton of Redwood fame mixes the well-worn tropes of a war flick with elements of surrealism, horror, and time-travel to make a novel, if tired, motion picture.

Black Ops on Pop

Black Ops’ central conceit is clever. A group of titular Black Ops is sent on a mission in Eastern Europe: they are to intercept a terrorist unit, retrieve the sensitive documents, and kill anyone in the camp.

The wicket gets stickier when they run into the Prisoner (Julia Szamalek). Kia Clarke (Samantha Schnitzler) is conflicted as to whether she should shoot her or not but is pressured into pulling the trigger for the sake of the mission. Before the Prisoner dies, she cries out, “Don’t go down!”

BLACK OPS: Stairway to Hell
source: Samuel Goldwyn Films

Several hours later, the squad returns to the UK for their debrief. Tragically, the elevator is jammed and they have to take the stairs. What awaits them is a trap that seems to never end as each crew member has to reckon with their inner demons as they try to reach the top and return to normality.

Back to the Depressing Future

After this intriguing opening, Black Ops wastes goodwill by wallowing around in its low budget. Most of the movie is either on a staircase or a retread of the opening mission with minimal action and maximum boredom.

George Burt‘s cinematography at least makes the wise choice of swapping up the color palettes with the mission scenes bathed in dreamy blues and the non-stop staircase scenes wavering from calm grays to hellish reds. Not unlike Steven Soderbergh‘s Traffic, this color scheme allows for viewers to easily tell at a glance both where the story is taking place and what the mood of the upcoming scene will be.

An Escalator Can Only Become Stairs

Despite opening with a glimpse of promise, Black Ops fails to weave a memorable tale. Although the repetitive scene structure brings to mind such time benders as Edge of Tomorrow or Back to the Future Part II, Black Ops’ characters are too bland and the mystery is too predictable to make anything truly matter.

BLACK OPS: Stairway to Hell
source: Samuel Goldwyn Films

Among the tight-knit cast, Samantha Schnitzler gives her all in the lead female role when there isn’t really much to chew on. Special effects are often a letdown, and the final twist at the end isn’t nearly as clever as Tom Paton thinks it is.

Stairway to Hell

Tom Paton’s Black Ops has all of the best intentions but fails to hit most of them. A forgettable military/horror thriller with a mild dab of surrealism, this movie is not worth your money or time.

Have you seen Black Ops yet? Post your bodacious opinion below!

Black Op was released on VOD on June 12, 2020.

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