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‘Rising Wolf’ review: Sci-fi hostage drama undone by story

Going down.

Rising Wolf gets off to an intriguing start. A woman is tied and blindfolded in a small room with a string of blue lights behind her. The room is bathed in red and fireworks go off in the distance. It is soon revealed that the small room is actually an elevator and the lights are part of what looks to be a broken television. Nothing is as it appears in this science fiction hostage flick from Australia.

The premise will immediately grab audiences, though there is also trepidation. Is Rising Wolf going to a movie about a young woman being tortured in an elevator? Thankfully, there is more to the story, even if it does not accomplish all it sets out to. Rising Wolf quickly moves beyond its cramped quarters and becomes a science-fiction thriller. Aria (Charlotte Best) is more than just a tourist tapped in an elevator in Shanghai. The story also involves magic powers and abilities, Russian bad guys, and a dystopian future. As one character says, “It’s just a lot to take in.”

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The mystery is enough to keep audiences invested. The plot provides bits of information through flashbacks and exposition. It is up to the audience to tie everything together. There is a nice flow between Aria’s current situation and the memories. This is in contrast to the weird dichotomy going on in Rising Wolf. Along with the elevator rising and suddenly falling, the screen at the back of the elevator will occasionally turn on. When it does, Aria is forced to watch Russian baddie Yaroslav (Alex Menglet) torture her father, Richard (Johnny Pasvolsky). It is an ongoing cycle of abuse that can get to be too much at times.

The movie can get very graphic. Some of the scenes involving Richard are surprisingly brutal. In particular, there is a scene involving his thumb that the team making the film must have been very proud of. Despite the initial Young Adult feel of Rising Wolf, it takes on a much more mature slant at times. There is also graphic descriptions of violence and a teased sexual assault.

The scenes involving Aria will be polarizing. On the one hand, Best is fantastic in the role even though her scenes are limited to reaction shots. (Marlee Barber also deserves credit for being thrown around the elevator.) The situation is over the top, but Best is able to bring some humanity to it all. That being said, there is only so many times a person will want to see someone being tossed up and down a little room.

'Rising Wolf' review: Sci-fi hostage drama undone by story

The highlight of Rising Wolf is the cinematography. It manages to maintain its slightly futuristic look while not going full blown World of Tomorrow. There is good use of light and shadow and the flashbacks have a dreamlike quality. The first time the elevator plummets is eye catching. This makes things much more palatable, since the story can become something of a slog.

This type of film is predicated on its mystery. This is where Rising Wolf loses its way. The script is unable to bring any of its ideas together in a cohesive story. After a slow drip of information, the last half hour becomes twist happy. Everything has to come pouring out since nothing was explained during the rest of the film. It would be too much to take in even if it did make sense. Rising Wolf may be intentionally confusing in order to draw audiences into a planned sequel. If that is the case, it may not work. Anyone who watches will have to get through a lot before anything substantial happens. And by then, it may be too late.

Rising Wolf comes to theaters and VOD August 6

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