Appellate Judge Tom Becker didn't love this movie to deaths.
Every soul has a price.
It's the final seconds of the hockey game, Ian Stone (Mike Vogel, Poseidon) gets the puck, shoots, scores! But the clock stopped, so his goal doesn't count. After dropping off his girlfriend, Jenny (Christina Cole, What a Girl Wants), he encounters an oily-looking creature on the side of the road. The creature attacks him and throws him in front of a train. The train runs him over—and suddenly, Ian is at work, in an office. Jenny is there too, but she's not his girlfriend now, she's his co-worker.
Soon, Ian dies again, and then again, and after each death, he starts a new life with only vague memories of the previous ones. Jenny is in all these new lives as well, though her connection to Ian is different in each one.
The Deaths of Ian Stone has an intriguing set up, and in the right hands, could have been Groundhog Day via The Outer Limits. Unfortunately, the film tips its hand too early and too clumsily.
As a matter-of-fact, we are only into life number two—30 minutes in—when the explanations start coming, first from an exposition-spouting stranger, then from someone closer to Ian. From here, the film becomes a science-fiction/chase adventure, complete with taloned monsters and huge gaps in logic. Writer Brendan Hood (They) presents a scenario that is awfully convoluted, and from a writing standpoint, convenient—it seems Hood had this cool idea about alternate realities but had to bring in creatures from somewhere or another to make sense of it. Even so, the story still feels unfinished, as though Hood was making it up as he went along and ended it to make a deadline.
This is a shame on a lot of levels. Until the exposition kicked in, Ian Stone promised to be a fun mystery—during the second life, we get clues to the previous life (characters in different guises, memories that turn out to be false—perhaps—and so on). It felt like a cheat to have that part explained away so quickly (even though there are other mysteries here, but they're not all that interesting). In addition, the film boasts a strong lead performance by Mike Vogel, who is far more effective as a confused everyman than he is as a low-rent action hero.
The "look" of the film is unexceptional. Director Dario Piana seems more at home with the action sequences than with the mystery elements, and early in the film—before we know what's going on—adds some minor effects to show time passage (lap dissolves, speeded-up photography) that are both unnecessary and unwelcome. In these early scenes, we're still watching for clues as to what is happening to Ian, and the "trick photography" seems like it should be part of the story (it isn't).
The Deaths of Ian Stone is one of the After Dark Horrorfest's 8 Films to Die For. Unlike the other film I saw in this series, Borderland, Lionsgate gives Ian Stone a fairly weak release. While the 5.1 Surround track is fine, the image really is not—it's soft in spots and grainy in the film's many dark scenes. The only extras are trailers for other films and Webisodes of the Miss Horrorfest Contest. What would have been great would have been a commentary from Producer Stan Winston, better known as the award-winning F/X giant behind such films as Jurassic Park and Terminator 2.
Had The Deaths of Ian Stone taken a less conventional and more existential tack, it could have been a challenging and creepy little film. Instead, it ends up being just another monster movie.
Mike Vogel is free to go and find roles better suited to his talents.
As for Lionsgate, Hood, and Piana—well, look at the title and figure it out.
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