Gutierrez (a past co-author of Gothika and Snakes on a Plane) breaks his story down in trendy-edgy non-linear fashion, starting us somewhere in mid-story and then cutting back and forth from the present narrative to a flashback narrative until the streams converge. Add that to the film's revenge plot and you have a slight resemblance to Kill Bill. Then add the former O-Ren Ishii, Lucy Liu, as the anti-heroine and the resemblance is somewhat less slight. But the jigsaw narrative has no justification like Tarantino's genre homages. It just seems like the conventional thing to do these days.
Liu is Sadie Blake, whom we first see outbidding Robert Forster for the services of a prostitute. After taking her home and having her strip, Sadie orders her to the bathroom to wash. The shower tub is a trap, and Sadie isn't necessarily a lesbian, but a procuress for a creepy crippled man who intends to "eat" the hooker. Sadie's payment is an address, but her exit is temporary. She returns to kill the creep with a crossbow bolt and free the girl.
Mako in his final film appearance. D'Arcy and Gugino are vampires, and while they usually kill their victims, something about Sadie compels Gugino to let her survive to become a vampire in her own right. Curiously, this was the second film in a row we've seen in which the vampire's only traditional attribute is a failure to cast reflections in mirrors -- though Gutierrez botches this by catching Liu's reflection in a hospital window. Otherwise, vampires heal quicker than people and are a little bit stronger than normal, but not so much so that people can't do serious damage to them. One thing I really liked about Rise was its refusal to go overboard with the vampires' powers. It kept things at a gritty level appropriate to the noirish story.
After Sadie kicks her way out of a morgue slab, she discovers her new nature in gruesome fashion at a homeless shelter. She has no fangs and no weapons, so when the hunger hits her she has to gnaw desperately at some rummy's wrist until the skin comes loose. It's more horrific, I thought, than a present-time scene where she seduces and kills a hitchhiker, but that one's just as grim because it sells the point that Sadie isn't a noble vampire. She wants revenge, but has no illusions about her future beyond that. When she finally hooks up with Michael Chiklis's high-functioning alcoholic cop (whose daughter was killed by the vampires), her main stake (sorry) in the relationship is her hope that Chiklis will kill her after she kills her enemies....
Rise is a kind of sad exit for Mako, one of my favorite character actors and a clearly unwell man in his Renfield scenes here. But as Wendigo says, "At least he was still working."
It's a tough life for a vampire in Rise; above, Lucy Liu struggles with some tough meat, while she squirms through Michael Chiklis's meatball surgery below.
Vic Mackey might have dealt with the undead, but the thought probably didn't occur to Gutierrez.
Wendigo labels Rise a solid, effective modern B movie. Gutierrez resists most of the temptations that his story offers him, telling a disciplined story without that overproduced look you get so often these days. In other hands, this could have been Charlie's Angels with vampires (or Underworld 2), but this time out the director made a virtue of his budget. But those same virtues probably doomed the film before it even had a chance to fail at most box offices. While Wendigo likes the film, he doubts that it would have caught on with the typical multiplex horror/action/fantasy fan, as it lacks a lot of what they seem to like. It deserved better.
Here's a trailer, uploaded to YouTube by nicolemc233: