Review: SECTION 8 Delivers a Lean, Mean, Stripped-Down, Old-School Action Film for the DTV Age!

It’s been a while since I did a review and what better way to get back into the swing of things then by chatting up a new action film that features the likes of Scott Adkins, Dolph Lundgre, Dermot Mulroney and Ryan Kwanten in a true break out action leading man role. The film is called Section 8 and it hails from the filmmaker of one of my favorite films of last year which was Every Last One of Them. Christian Sesma is one of DTV’s go to guys when you want an action film delivered to fans with limited resources and time.

DTV (Direct-To-Video) is a hit/miss category of the action genre nowadays and unfortunately, with fewer choices of adrenaline being offered in the cinemas, fans are getting their much needed fix on streaming services and home video. To put it simply, more times than not, the choices are subpar and that’s being kind. It’s well documented that DTV films have low budgets and even lower production schedules so it’s an up full battle to say the least. Sometimes, however, there are those films, made by people who get it, that rise above the video chaos and offer something first rate for fans. This is one of those times.

This film bares a purely coincidental resemblance to Netflix’s high budget pic The Gray Man. While that movie was a disappointment to me in many ways, Section 8 delivers a similar tale that, even though it doesn’t have bombastic set pieces like the aforementioned film, it still delivers a stripped down and lean old school style action film. Genre fans should gravitate to this one more as all the action stars you’ve come to see are are given something to do even with some of their limited screen time.

The plot for Section 8 doesn’t set the film world on fire but that’s more than acceptable as it gives us what we are looking for when choosing a Saturday night viewing. One thing that does separate it from more traditional revenge tales is that this isn’t a traditional revenge motif and the vengeance is taken care of within the first thirty minutes of the film. Then it morphs into a completely different beast for the rest of the running time which sets it apart so here’s hoping that viewers don’t see this as just another revenge laden plot because there’s many more layers to it. This is a direct result of the screenplay being handled by veteran action maestro Chad Law along with Josh Ridgway who is best known for the rousing indie action-horror hybrid film High Moon starring Chad Michael Collins

Kwanten stars as Jake Atherton, who in a flashback sequence at the beginning, reveals that he’s a special forces bad ass under the command of Colonel Tom Mason (Dolph Lundgren). The opening depicts a mission that goes wrong and while Atherton’s comrades are cut down, he is saved by Mason so he can leave the military and make it home to his wife and son. The opening salvo is a quickly paced firefight that sets the stage for the rest of the film as there is plenty of adrenaline to be had before the closing credits roll.

Flash forward to the present and Jake is working for his “Uncle” Earl (the always stoic Mickey Rourke) who adopted him when he was younger after he lost his parents. Times are tough and money is tight, but Jake stays positive and tries to instill the same faith in his wife. Unfortunately, one day, Jake encounters a street gang when he gets to work led by Fresh, played by veteran baddie Robert LaSardo. Fresh wants Earl to pay him protection money but jake intervenes and pummels Fresh’s crew with a monkey wrench. Of course, that doesn’t sit well with the gang leader and Jake’s wife and son are killed as a result.

Not satisfied with letting the law handle things, Jake dusts off his lethal skills and eradicates Fresh and his entire gang in a strip club in a sequence that flashes vibes of the disco scene in The Terminator. As a result, Jake is sentenced to life in prison and that’s fine with him as he tells Mason when he comes to see him that he has zero remorse and would gladly do it again.

The tide turns as Atherton is visited by the mysterious Sam Ramsey (a steely eyed Dermot Mulroney) who offers Jake the chance to get out of prison and enlist for his shadowy government Black Ops squad called, you guessed it, Section 8. Jake refuses at first but Ramsey doesn’t take no for an answer and after waking up after being drugged, Jake reluctantly agrees to join the group which also includes his handler Liza Mueller (Tracy Perez) and Ajax (Justin Furstenfeld) who distains Jake from the word go. I smell an altercation in the future with these two.

After going on a few missions for Ramsey, Jake begins to realize that he is nothing more than an assassin who must kill indiscriminately, and that Section 8 is not what it all appears to be. Having a conscience and all, Jake begins to defy Ramsey and the group which leads to the ex-soldier having to wage war on the very group that hired him in the first place and gave him his freedom. What follows is an endless barrage of fisticuffs and firepower as Jake battles Section 8 to reclaim what humanity he has left.

Like I said earlier, Section 8 is like a lower budgeted version of The Gray Man, and this proves that a lot of money doesn’t mean a better movie. While this indie action offering has some issues, it handles the pacing and the action far better with Kwanten playing the heroic lead with bravado and stoicism while at the same time serving up a little sympathetic nature for the audience.

I must admit that I wasn’t too familiar with Kwanten outside of his one movie Blunt Force Trauma which also featured Mickey Rourke, but I was pleasantly surprised to see him deliver in this kind of role. Can I also say that at times, with his beard, Kwanten looks like a young Kris Kristofferson back in the day which certainly helped sell the role that he’s playing. It’s almost as if he’s the son of the iconic actor. Kwanten gets many chances to use hand to hand as well as firearms in the film’s many action sequences and hits the target.

Dermot Mulroney, as the sinister Ramsey, is solid per usual and Mulroney is one actor that never phones in a performance. I’ve been a fan of his since he played Dirty Steve in Young Guns (one of my all-time favorite westerns) and whether he’s playing a good guy or bad or doing a whole different genre all together, Mulroney brings it home every time. As Ramsey, Mulroney is the Yin to Kwanten’s Yang and it’s fun to watch the two play cat and, mouse as you are never sure who is which until, of course, the evnts all unfold.

Now you might be asking yourself, John why haven’t you mentioned the action star likes of Scott Adkins or Dolph Lundgren yet? Well, that’s because they both have limited screen time in this film. Now that’s not a bad thing if you know this going in as Lundgren has more than Adkins does who is only in a handful of scenes. Lundgren is spot on as Mason who is out to help Atherton but there is a twist to his character that I did see coming but it was still serviceable to the plot. Lundgren gets to get his hands dirty in the action department both at the beginning of the film and towards the ending during the inevitable climax.

Adkins’ fans might be a little bit more upset as the action phenom is in what amounts to be four scenes all together but with three of those being of the action variety, he still gives the fans what they want both in the martial arts department as well as releasing a salvo of rounds from a machine gun as he plays Leonard Locke who is Ramsey’s when all else fails hitman. I was afraid that Adkins was going to be criminally underused here but no worries on that front as he gets to showcase his signature skills more than once. I’m not going to spoil anything but just when you think it’s all wrapped up, Adkins’ character of Locke pops back up to deliver some more pain.

Mickey Rourke is probably given the least amount to do which is expected but he still manages to be a part of the more dramatic moments of the film. His character’s relationship with Kwanten’s is more or less the center of it all and here he gets to wrap it all together. That’s not to say that he doesn’t get the opportunity to dust someone because, yes, he does.

Sesma’s go to actor for action, Paul Sloan, who starred in Every Last On of Them, gets a brief cameo as one of the unit’s assassins. Sloan is another favorite of mine and is severely underrated so it’s unfortunate that he didn’t get a bigger play here. It was fun to see him get dusted in one of the film’s many action pieces.

Section 8 clocks in at just over 98 minutes and there’s no filler to be had as the narrative is lean with action from start to finish. What is most satisfying is that the sequences of adrenaline are handled with the upmost care and love for the action fan, and they are shot clearly and confidently as the actors here know what they are doing. It just proves once again that when you have a tight budget, you just need to insert actors who can deliver the carnage so the camera can just sit back and capture all the glorious mayhem to be had. Veteran action director and fight choreographer Luke LaFontaine, who actually has worked with Adkins on multiple Jesse V. Johnson helmed projects, orchestrates the action here with trusted efficiency and gives everyone something to do when it comes time to go boom or crunch. LaFontaine has been a staple in the industry for years and here, he adds his no nonsense, brutal choreography to the proceedings.

It’s also refreshing to see action films done with practical effects and stunt work and as someone who is a voice for old school style action pics, Section 8 does it like it’s 1985 all over again. You get old fashioned car chases, blood squibs and explosions that ooze a retro style that is sorely lacking in today’s action genre output. Sesma is certainly a fan of films like Die Hard and Rambo and it shows in his style as a director.

Now Section 8 does have a few twists to the proceedings which again are par for the course, but it doesn’t ruin the enjoyment of the film. I’ve seen enough of these movies that it’s easy to see what’s coming most of the time. If you let it slide, then you should walk away from the movie being entertained for 90 plus minutes as you should know what you’re walking into when you see a film like this. The movie does show its budget at times, and it is just a shame that we can’t get these actors and filmmakers the money they need to really hammer home a film project. I digress though as this is just nitpicking at this stage of the review game.

It’s important to also note that Sesma has worked with Adkins more including the highly anticipated action film Lights Out which also stars another personal favorite of mine, Frank Grillo. As of this writing Sesma and Adkins are currently filming the new film War Paint which will depict the action star in a new light. After seeing just a little taste of what the duo accomplished in Section 8, I’m excited to see what the future holds for these films which are also products of screenwriter and producer Chad Law.

Overall, Section 8 is as advertised. It’s an indie action film that strips everything down to its animalistic urges and showcases action stars doing what they are known for. There isn’t a lot of running time that goes by before bullets, fists and feet start to fly again and not being bored while watching an action movie is kind of the point. Adkins, Lundgren and Rourke do have limited screen time, but they still add an emotional and high-octane impact and Ryan Kwanten is solid in his first real action-oriented role. Director Christian Sesma knows what fans want and here he gets more of an opportunity to give it to them with solid albeit smaller scale action sequences that still pack a punch. If you can forgive some of the shortcomings, then Section 8 should be right up your alley and as the film is left open ended, I would be one that would certainly want to see more from this world. In one sentence, Section 8 is indie action filmmaking that hits the spot for genre fans!

Story: 1 Out of 2, Pacing 1.5 Out of 2, Action 2 Out of 2, Characters: 1.5 Out of 2, Overall Enjoyment: 2 Out of 2

Section 8 Delivers a Lean, Mean, Old School and Stripped-Down Action film for the DTV Age!

Section 8 will be available in Theaters and will stream on AMC+ Sept. 23

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