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Moscow Zero (2006)
"Moscow Zero" is a three out of five-star movie; however, it's worth seeing and reviewing because the few things it does well, it does very well. Re. IMDB, the film cost a mere $10 million to produce. Most (if not all) of its exterior shots are indeed filmed in Moscow. For anyone who has been to the Russian capitol, it's impossible to miss that odd hodgepodge of buildings -- many dating back to the times of Stalin.
The rest of the film (judging by the credits) was probably filmed in Spain, on a set or an actual cave.
The major and minor characters are polished, and there is nothing stupid coming out of their mouths.
The premise of the film is fairly simple. Vincent Gallo (Father Owen) comes to Moscow with the intent of rescuing his archeologist friend Rade Serbedzija (Surgey) who has gone missing too long.
He assembles a small team to carry out his mission (including Juoaquim de Almeida as Yuri) -- as it seems to be common knowledge among Muscovites that the underground is filled with unsavory characters, a labrinth, and even a gateway to hell.
Owen finds all of the superstitious aspects to be just that. He is a priest and isn't frightened by tales of the supernatural. One of their first encounters (after the descent) is with Joss Ackland (Tolstoy) a vodka-swiller, who lives in the underground and knows the man to whom the small rescue team must speak in order to gain permission to enter the lowest level of the cave -- where the supposed gateway to hell is guarded.
Along the way they meet Oksana Akinshina (Lyuba) who is a member of this strange, head-case gang that purportedly guards the gateway.
She successfuly leads them to Val Kilmer (Andrey), who is the head honcho for the gateway observers/protectors. He gives permission to the team to head further in their quest -- even knowing that his group has imminent plans to seal off the gateway tunnel forever. I have to warn you that Val Kilmer is not the lead in this film. I don't even know why he signed on for such a tiny part.
Time to mention a couple of things. The DVD back cover description is a falsity, and this distortion of the story is what is provided on NetFlix, Amazon and even the IMDB.
Apparently, no one, not even the marketeers, bothered to actually watch the movie or bother to try and understand it. This outright dismissal or abandonment of the film has contributed to its extreme obscurity. The other point is that part of the story takes place in 1918, when the horrendous Bolshevik purges killed thousands of innocent lives. A group of children living under the protection of a nunnery are led down into the catacombs beneath the capitol for protection.
One nun is left to watch over them.
Intermittently, we see a blanched, ghostly little girl, running throughout the tunnels -- with which she seems extremely familiar. There are other shadowy figures -- mostly of children but also some adults. They know the tunnels intimately, even though their existence must have been in absolute darkness.
The expeditonary crew continues on their way, while various members get killed or simply vanish -- including Lyuba.
Later, we see Lyuba among the shadowy children and larger entities. She is bound and gagged. Among the shadow people, there is discussion whether she is the one to bring them up to the surface world or is she a demon.
During another flashback in time, we see that the 1918 children are given an instruction to stay underground until a sister can come and lead them back through the maze and into the sunshine. Unfortunately, we also see that the church to which the nuns (and the children) belonged burning as the anarchist Bolshoviks riot throughout Moscow. Thus, the fate of the children and single nun left in the underground have their fate sealed. No one will be coming to rescue them ... ever.
With a shrinking crew, Father Owen goes forward to find his friend Surgey, but after they circumnavigate the entire lower ring of the underground, they find only his notes and a map.
Syrgey meanwhile is running blindly to escape a presence that is closing in on him.
Owen decides to abandon his search/rescue mission and head for the top, only to find that the main passageway has been blocked by stones -- placed there by the shadow children.
Andrey and his followers go to seal off the gateway to hell, only to find that the passage has already been closed. This removes them as being the elusive demons that cause people to disappear. He displays no remorse for Lyuba, saying "She knew what she was getting into."
But, we witness a scene where Lyuba is freed by the ghostly little girl, and winds up back with Owen. The shadowy people follow Lyuba for their generations-long hope of being brought topside.
Studying the map, Owen sees there are numerous cul-de-sacs -- one of which might lead to an escape route. Most of the cul-de-sacs are dead ends, but during his hunt he chances upon Surgey. Together, they figure that an alternate way out must be in the cul-de-sacs containing the clothing and skeleton of a nun.
They go there and search for a hidden passageway. They eventually make sense of the old scribblings on the wall and find an upward inclining tunnel. We never see the survivors getting out from the pit, but we witness something breaking apart an air-duct inside a monastery, and can only assume this is their exit. The final shot is the little ghostly girl. standing out in the open, above ground, looking askance into the camera.
If you should choose to locate and watch this odd film, you will benefit to know a few things at the onset. In a sense I have to ruin the mystery of the film in order to make it more comprehensible and digestible.
First off, there is no gateway to hell; however, at the lowest level of the catacombs is a generations-long group of survivors from the Bolshevik purge. They have evidently reproduced among themselves and used stray individuals in the tunnels to cannibalize.
Their one desire is to emerge from the underground, but no nun ever comes to retrieve them. Lyuba (whose name means "love" in Russian) seems like a possible candidate as the one who will show them the path, so they agree to follow her -- even though they are not sure if she is "the one" or just another demon from the top-side world.
Val Kilmer is nothing more than he is portrayed. He is not a gatekeeper to a non-existent gateway to hell -- although he and his followers believe they have found such a portal. In actuallity, all they have found is the area in which the forgotten people are living and defending their part of the catacombs. There mistake is understandable since many of their numbers have become dinner for the forgotten ones.
The fact that I have to provide this exposition points to a weakness about the film. The film is successful in creating a great deal of confusion -- most of which is on purpose; yet, the director goes overboard with creating a kind of claustraphobic, hallucinagenic world of darkness and shadow -- to the extent that the script slips away from him.
The acting, filming, music/sound effects, and especially the dialog are very good.
The basic story seems muddled and it takes an hour or two of contemplation or discussion with a friend to put the pieces together -- in order to assemble a coherent and satisfactory storyline.
Most people will not have the patience to contemplate whether the film makes sense or not. I can tell you with confidence that the storyline is not the mess it seems to be, but it does require a degree of sorting out.
As I said at the beginning, this is a three-star film, a very small gem, but something worth watching IF you are the type of individual who doesn't mind some measure of analysis. Unlike most Hollywood thrillers, "Moscow Zero" is coherent and does not leave you dangling at the end.
The whole movie is like an adult version of "Mr. Toad's Wild Ride," which, I guess, no longer exists in Disneyland. You could also say it is like "Alice in Wonderland" if she had fallen into a world of terror and horror vs. one of unbridled imagination.
If you decide to go forward and look for this obscure DVD (which I bought for a couple of bucks on Amazon), remember my pointers, and you'll come out of it understanding the major thrust of the film's intent.