Review: ‘Alpha Rift,’ starring Aaron Dalla Villa and Lance Henriksen

December 6, 2021

by Carla Hay

Aaron Dalla Villa, Lance Henriksen and Graham Wolfe in “Alpha Rift” (Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment)

“Alpha Rift”

Directed by Dan Lantz

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed U.S. city, the action film “Alpha” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: An employee of a store that sells fantasy games finds out that he’s the heir to a mystical dynasty of knights who fight the devil’s apostles. 

Culture Audience: “Alpha Rift” will appeal primarily to people who are don’t mind watching bottom-of-the-barrel independent movies that are terrible on every single level.

Chris James Boylan and Philip N. Williams in “Alpha Rift” (Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment)

Inspired by fantasy video games, “Alpha Rift” is so shoddily made, it makes the most primitive video games from the 1980s look like masterpieces in comparison. What an embarrassing, amateur-looking mess. There are kids who come up with better-made YouTube videos in their backyards than the cinematic vomit that is “Alpha Rift.” Just like vomit, “Alpha Rift” is a regurgitation that just plain stinks.

Written and directed by Dan Lantz, “Alpha Rift” has absolutely no innovation or surprises. The movie is awful in every single way: The acting is horrendous. The screenplay is an abyss of dull predictability. And the movie’s technical elements (directing, cinematography, editing, visual effects, etc.) have all the clumsiness and repellent qualities of being stuck next to a loud, drunken and boorish person who talks gibberish and tells bad jokes non-stop for 94 minutes, which is the total running time of this disgrace to quality filmmaking.

If you must know what “Alpha Rift” is about—in case you might want to torture yourself by watching this dreck—it’s basically a muddled mess of a story about how an annoying and immature guy in his 20s named Nolan Parthmore (played by Aaron Dalla Villa) finds out that he’s the heir to a dynasty descended from four mystical knights from centuries ago. The four original knights in this dynasty battled 12 devil apostles that can possess the bodies of human beings.

And you know what that means: Somehow, one of the demons has been let loose. And only Nolan can save everyone. But first, there’s a lot of time-wasting antics and hammy over-acting that pollute the screen until the movie’s inevitable ending that can’t come soon enough. The knight costumes look like a ripoff/unintentional parodies of Stormtrooper uniforms from the “Star Wars” series.

Nolan works at a store called Tiki Board Games, whose specialty is fantasy board games. (“Alpha Rift” takes place in an unnamed U.S. city, but the movie was actually filmed in various cities in Pennsylvania.) Whoever owns the store was dumb enough to put Nolan in charge as the manager. Nolan is one of those people who think he’s clever and witty, but what he considers “jokes” are just a series of pathetic one-liners.

The only co-workers who are seen with Nolan in the store are two other obnoxious staffers: Lewis (played by Christopher Ullrich) and Gabby (played by Rachel Nielsen), who are also in their 20s and insufferably smug. Lewis likes to yell at customers who don’t follow the rules of the board games when they’re playing demo games in the store. Gabby, who dresses like she’s stuck in a grunge music video from the 1990s (she wears pigtails and a wool ski cap), is bitter and sarcastic.

Gabby doesn’t like it when “cougar” older women customers flirt with Nolan. And you know what that means: Gabby has a crush on Nolan, but she doesn’t want to admit it. Nolan secretly likes her too. Lewis teases Gabby and Nolan about when these two would-be lovebirds are finally going to get together. Gabby and Nolan deny that they have romantic feelings for each other. You know where this is all going, of course.

Meanwhile, the movie’s opening scene shows three thieves breaking into a vault that’s supposed to contain priceless artifacts and jewelry. However, “Alpha Rift” is so cheap-looking, the vault’s “treasures” just look trinkets that could be found at a garage sale or a flea market. The three burglars are bossy heist leader Russell (played by John Groody), antsy Pavlov (played by Chris James Boylan) and hulking Blades (played by Philip N. Williams).

They have come to steal gold coins. Apparently, the coins are the only things in the vault that are untraceable, since the coins can be melted and sold for cash. But things go wrong during this burglary, of course.

Blades picks up a green transparent jewel (that really looks like it’s made of glass) that’s about the size and shape of an ostrich egg, and he accidentally drops it. Green mist (with some of the cheesiest-looking visual effects you’ll ever see in a movie) comes pouring out and immediately kills Russell and then seeps into the body of Blades. The mist bypasses Pavlov, even though he’s seen visibly shaking in a corner.

Suddenly, Blades’ eyes turn green (more laughably bad visual effects), and his eyes bug out, to make it obvious that the green mist is demonic, and Blades is now possessed. For the rest of the movie, Blades essentially goes on a rampage and becomes the chief villain who must be defeated and destroyed. The casting of this Blades character is racially problematic because he’s the movie’s only African American character with a significant speaking role, and the movie literally makes him the biggest demon. The only other African Americans in the movie are Lewis (who has an angry temper) and a fellow gang member who’s just there for the fight scenes. It’s all just lazy and negative stereotyping.

Somehow, Pavlov makes it back to the gang headquarters (which is at a local bar) with the coins. He gives the coins to the gang leader: a brooding Russian named Rilek (played by Peter Patrikios), who doesn’t have long to enjoy this burglary haul when Blades storms into the place and starts attacking his former cronies. Rilek finds out that shooting guns at Blades won’t stop Blades, whose voice has changed to a distorted and deep echo from the tacky audio effects used in the movie.

A panicked Pavlov tells Rilek what happened in the vault with the green mist and that Blades is possessed by a demonic spirit. Rilek is skeptical at first, but then he becomes convinced that Pavlov is telling the truth. Blades’ rampage continues when he literally crashes through the door of Tiki Board Games, as if he senses that Nolan is there.

A female customer named Kate (played by Allyson Malandra) tells Nolan to put on a knight’s helmet that she happens to have right there. Nolan puts on the helmet, and he finds out that he has superhuman strength and fighting abilities when he wears the helmet. Nolan fights Blade in self-defense. But then, inexplicably, Blades runs off in a panic. Actually, the only explanation for Blades to run away is to stretch out the total running time of this boring movie.

Nolan is so exhausted by this fight that he passes out. Nolan wakes up to see that he and Gabby are now in the mansion of a mysterious, elderly man named Corbin (played by Lance Henriksen), who tells Nolan that he’s been looking for Nolan for years and that the knight’s helmet given to Nolan is 1, 247 years old. Corbin also says that he knew Nolan’s deceased father (played by Adam Danoff, in a flashback), who also had a secret identity as a mystical knight. And that’s how Nolan finds out about he’s the heir to this knight dynasty.

Corbin is the owner of the vault that was broken into by Russell, Pavlov and Blades. Russell was a disgruntled ex-employee who had been fired by Corbin, which is why Russell knew how to break into the vault. What was Corbin doing keeping a pent-up demon in a glass-looking egg? The answer is pretty obvious. In other words, Corbin isn’t telling the whole story about himself right away.

It turns out that Kate, the woman who gave Nolan the helmet, is an employee of Corbin’s. Kate had been helping Corbin in the search for the rightful heir to this knight dynasty. Corbin has a tough-talking son named Vickars (played by Graham Wolfe), who is tasked with training a reluctant Nolan into becoming a knight who can do battle in the Stormtrooper wannabe costumes that are in this movie. Predictably, Nolan and Vickars have personality clashes with each other. The training scenes are witless and drag the story down even more.

The fight scenes are nothing special and have basic choreography. What’s hard to take is all the bad dialogue and cringeworthy acting in the movie. Henricksen is the most well-known actor in the cast. He looks slightly embarrassed to be there, but his acting is subpar too. By the time “Alpha Rift” clumsily lurches to its unimaginative ending, the only thing that feels mystifying about this story is how the filmmakers fooled people into thinking that this trash was worth making into a movie.

Vertical Entertainment released “Alpha Rift” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on November 19, 2021.

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