Ba’al [aka Ba'al: the Storm God] (US/Canada-2008; dir. Paul Ziller)
Existing somewhere in the vast mid-range of cinematic quality, Ba’al is an entertaining B-film that aspires to originality (or maybe just deviation from the norm of low-budget genre films), even if in the end little is achieved beyond a fairly competent use of its meagre resources. A diverting mix of Indiana Jones-style archeological adventure fantasy, caper thriller and disaster flick, the direct-to-video monster movie at times feels like two films woven somewhat tenuously together — though to be fair the script strives to divert our attention from the fact that the two character sets involved never meet, one group being confined to a meteorological command centre and only experiencing the larger events of the film via monitor screens.
In the primary plot thread a famous if unstable (and dying) archeologist masterminds the theft of rare Sumarian scrolls that he plans to use to find and excavate four amulets. These artefacts are not only of great historical value but may hold the key to unleashing a terrible ancient power — the power of the Storm God Ba’al, exiled from the world for millennia by his more beneficent father, El. Naturally the ethically unstable professor draws into his search a younger, better-looking and more heroic archeologist and a beautiful esoteric-language expert, who together give him the extra information he needs to bring his quest to fruition. With the discovery of each of the amulets, Ba’al gets more powerful, a revitalisation signaled by the sudden appearance of mega-storms that not only draw power from the Van Allen Belt but are sentient, every now and then (when dramatically useful) manifesting a savage face with glowing eyes and fiery mouth — the likeness of Ba’al himself.
There is a minor plotline involved here as the mad archeologist has implicated his younger comrade in the theft and resulting murder and the latter is being hunted by an investigating government agent. This thread doesn’t come to much, but it’s there to add suspense and variety for a while — and it does this without much elaboration. It ends quickly when the Federal agent, who has captured the innocent protagonist, comes face-to-face with Ba’al and thereupon decides there may be more to events than he’d be led to believe.
In the second major plot thread a rogue (but spunky) meteorologist tries to convince her typically boneheaded military ex-superiors (query: why exactly is the military in charge of weather monitoring?) that the mega-storms appearing over various parts of the globe are of apocalyptic potential — though they only believe her when a surveillance plane is destroyed and vast storms rip through various major cities. As the climax looms, separate mega-storms begin to join up and threaten to plunge the world into total annihilation.
With generally reasonable acting that only in some instances plunges into caricature, Ba’al‘s narrative drive builds effectively, working an archeological mystery-solving scenario that is vaguely credible, at least in fantasy terms — even if real archeologists rarely find themselves running around the world furiously digging up ancient relics while being chased by ancient deities. The military/meteorological disaster thread is rather less convincing, partially as a result of the limited budget. If Emmerich’s climate-change blockbuster The Day After Tomorrow left you unconvinced politically, the minimalist political decision-making processes of Ba’al certainly aren’t going to win you over. But that’s the B-film world (whether big-budgeted or not) — and it lets the plot zoom along with the appearance of an occasional CGI lightning strike, tornado or snarling cumulus deity.
The film does falter somewhat as it nears the end, the narrative threads becoming rather ragged and the solution to the protagonist’s problems too easily dealt with. Yet as B-exploitation films go, Ba’al isn’t bad at all, being both technically competent and relatively spectacular — to be scorned if only multi-million dollar digital FX as seamless and detailed as those of Hellboy 2 will satisfy you, but more than tolerable for those willing to adjust their expectations according to realistic budgetary possibilities, script flaws notwithstanding.
This review was first published on Horrorscope.