REVIEW: Black Site [2022]

Rating: 5 out of 10.
  • Rating: R | Runtime: 98 minutes
    Release Date: May 3rd, 2022 (USA)
    Studio: Redbox Entertainment
    Director(s): Sophia Banks
    Writer(s): Jinder Ho

Drift caught, sir.

The terrorist bombing of a hospital in Istanbul has left almost two hundred people dead, including CIA Agent Abby Trent’s (Michelle Monaghan) husband and daughter. Since they were on-site because of her job as an analyst whisking them off to far-flung regions of the world, she blames herself for their deaths. It’s therefore no surprise that she fights hard to be reassigned to an off-the-grid location known as the Citadel considering it currently houses the government’s best lead (Simon Elrahi‘s Farhan) to discover the culprit’s identity. Abby’s boss is reluctant to sign-off on the transfer, both because he believes it’s too personal and because he’s not sure she has what it takes to get the job done. She’s known for being by-the-books, but this mission demands getting dirty.

This contrast is revealed in the most contrived way possible at the start of director Sophia Banks and writer Jinder Ho‘s Black Site. Abby’s boss talks about the Citadel being a place where the US can “fight terror with terror,” cartoonishly acting tough in a way that makes even Monaghan seem like an amateur. The filmmakers thankfully don’t spend too much time on exposition, quickly moving from dialogue-heavy melodrama to the more action-oriented lockbox locale serving as their main setting. Flash-forward ten months and we find Abby questioning everything she knows about the case (Was it actually a bomb?) as she’s about to be sent home. Has she led them to a dead-end? Or are the powers that be scared she’s brought them too close to the truth?

Either way, her interrogations did bear fruit (despite Jai Courtney‘s Miller’s hope to physically beat it out of their detainee instead). Unfortunately, the team sent to confirm her lead (led by Uli Latukefu‘s Palau and Pallavi Sharda‘s Tessa) has never watched an action thriller in their lives. They don’t give a second thought to the fact that the guy who left a pile of bodies in their path is just standing silently in front of a window, waiting to be apprehended. No, they’d rather just revel in the superficial notion that they caught the infamously elusive “Hatchet” (Jason Clarke) and call into the Citadel that celebrations are in order. Abby is the only one who dares question the mission’s ease upon discovering protocol is about to be broken.

The moment Citadel leader Rashid Nassar (Fayssal Bazzi) agrees to follow orders and let Palau have an unsupervised forty minutes with the prisoner, we know nothing good can result. The soldiers are still high on their victory and bloodthirsty for vengeance, so they trick themselves into thinking they have the upper hand. What appears like a green light to beat Hatchet to a pulp, however, is really just the necessary blind spot he needs to escape them. And as Farhan has warned numerous times before, you don’t want Hatchet on the loose. He’ll pick them all off one by one until his agenda is complete. Some, like Abby and Mossad’s Uri Wasserman (Phoenix Raei), will do whatever it takes to stop him. Others, like Miller, would rather survive.

By adding a countdown clock to the proceedings (going into lockdown demands there be communication with Langley, something Hatchet prevents by sabotaging their control room and initiating the failsafe destruction of the entire site by drone), Banks and Ho make the final hour as fast-paced and ruthless as possible. It also separates the two people we can trust (Abby and Uri) since one must stay behind and get the comms back online while the other looks to cut Hatchet off at the pass. Uri mans the cameras while cobbling together a phone and Abby attempts to regain control with the help of those still alive—a number that dwindles with every passing minute since the filmmakers refuse to be precious about anyone beyond their main hero and villain.

A couple twists and turns are injected into the narrative, but none arrive out-of-nowhere. Familiarity doesn’t automatically get in the way of effectiveness, though. With a better budget and more polish script-wise, Black Site might even be a good film. It’s tough to call it that in its current form, however, since it obviously needs both and comes across as a first draft still awaiting final special effects and improved line-readings. Not that how the actors say these words could change the generic nature of them. From Abby’s idealism to Miller’s toxic jingoism to Chaplain’s (Logan Huffman) naivete, everyone is pretty much written as a stereotype uninterested in breaking free from their pre-determined boxes. Hatchet becomes the most interesting by default simply because he’s silent until the climax.

That ultimately proves an odd choice considering the casting. Hatchet is supposed to be mysterious because no one knows who he is or who he works for and thus the silence becomes a narrative continuation of that uncertainty. Whether he speaks English or Farsi becomes a moot point once we see who it is, though. What’s the alternative play when you give the part to Jason Clarke? Have him speak with a fake Middle Eastern accent? The dude is white. Whether he’s on his own, backed by ISIS, or undercover for the same people Abby is working for, he’s a white man whose English won’t give anything away. Seeing his face is enough to end the charade and refusing to do so only makes it silly instead.

His silence therefore becomes a personality trait. It makes him “scarier” even though his systematic takedown of Citadel is scary enough—especially since that’s where the film becomes entertaining. We watch to see how he does it and how the others react via hubris. You can almost respect Miller and his willingness to give up state secrets to survive despite Hatchet never doing anything to presume he’d be willing to let there be survivors. At least he’s doing something besides blindly following orders like the rest. Because they’ve embraced being expendable sitting ducks, Abby proves the most dangerous of all due to having nothing more to lose. It’s an extreme that presents two possibilities: death or sequel potential. I wish I could say story was chosen above profit.

[1] Michelle Monaghan as Abby Trent in Black Site
[2] Jai Courtney as Raymond Miller and Lincoln Lewis as Landon Briggs in Black Site
[3] Jason Clarke as Hatchet in Black Site

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