Enter the Van Damme – Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning review

Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning Starring Jean-Claude Van Damme, Scott Adkins, and Dolph Lundgren. Directed by John Hyams. Rated R. By Richard Haridy.

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You’d be forgiven for writing off Universal Soldier: Day Of Reckoning as yet another low-rent sequel to an early 90s film that wasn’t especially worthwhile in the first place, but take a moment to ponder this: Day Of Reckoning is one of the most ambitious, experimental, and downright fascinating B-movie genre pieces I have seen in years.

John (Scott Adkins) is awoken one night by his daughter, who hears strange noises in their house. In a lengthy and audacious point-of-view sequence clearly influenced by Enter The Void, he comes across three masked men who violently beat him and murder his wife and child. Waking up nine months later, John discovers himself in a government institution haunted by the memories of this violent assault. One of the intruders is revealed to be Luc Deveraux (Jean-Claude Van Damme), the hero of the earlier Universal Soldier films. As John plots his revenge he begins to question his memory, and wonders if Deveraux is a psycho killer at all.

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Director John Hyams (son of Peter, who directed Van Damme in TimeCop) takes this seemingly generic franchise entry in a distinctively art-house direction, as if Gaspar Noe decided to make a cross between Apocalypse Now and The Manchurian Candidate. Visually, Day Of Reckoning is amazingly accomplished, packed with long, floating single takes that often culminate in extended strobe sequences. Hyams creates an unsettling and disconcerting atmosphere, alternating frighteningly visceral fist-fights with abstract hallucinatory scenes as our central character begins to literally lose his personal identity.

A soundtrack filled with synthetic drones and industrial buzzing contributes to a genuinely original mood that infuses this frequently dour film with a seriousness of intent unseen in direct-to-DVD fare. Be warned: Day Of Reckoning is ultra-violent, earning its R rating with some brutally unpleasant gore, but Hyams has a sense of artistic intention and control that makes this flick authentically compelling. Fans of genre and action cinema should make this vital viewing, situating Hyams as a talent to watch. He skilfully turns what should’ve been a forgettable franchise entry into one of the most aesthetically interesting actioners in years.

3.5/5

Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning is now available on DVD, Blu-ray, and Quickflix Pay Per Play.

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