Section 8 (2022) might be a formulaic as its title, thanks to a stuttering narrative, but an all star screen devouring cast and some jaw jarring action set pieces make it one of the better straight to VOD action films of the year.
I’ll take a Section 8 from the drive-thru menu…
The modern era of action cinema has seemingly been divided into two halves. The first is spectacle-driven, CGI ‘splosion fests that make the theatrical cut, and the other is throwback action thrillers relegated to straight to VOD or streaming immediately. Section 8, with its stacked cast and an experienced directorial hand, could pride itself on being one of the better films in this latter category, even with its narrative and scripting obstacles.
Like so many other films that exist as straight-to-home market entertainment, Section 8 serves its purpose as cinematic comfort food that rarely reaches the heights of “art.” Yet, it’s hard not to find exactly why this film will sell well as a blind buy on Walmart shelves or in the VOD landscape. This film is comfortable, for better or worse.
The plot thins
As a film fan who grew up on the “straight to VHS” action classics of the 80s and 90s, it’s not unusual that I would end up finding things to love in Section 8. It’s also not unusual in this genre to rely on a formulaic story and narrative.
The plot is one that 99% of all casual film watchers have already seen. The ex-military man named Jake, played by Ryan Kwanten, winds up in prison due to killing the gang that killed his family, then a secret assassin organization named, you guessed it – Section 8 – comes knocking to have him work for them.
One doesn’t need to be a contractor remodeling the kitchen next door to recognize that obvious blueprint and, to be frank, it’s the biggest obstacle for Section 8 to hurdle. Not only does the main plot contain obvious ABC content, but it’s also presented in that order. Jake, played with a surprising amount of confidence and proficiency by Kwanten, doesn’t even hear about the titular organization until the second act.
Piece by piece
Then, as the film unravels, it becomes very apparent that its stacked action cast listing required director Christian Sesma to go full Frankenstein and piece this film together. Mickey Rourke, for example, shares not one frame of film together with Kwanten despite the fact that they have like three or four scenes together. It’s kind of insane.
The same goes for Scott Adkins who shares no scenes with any characters outside of Kwantan and his scenes feel like they were (blissfully) added a bit later to punch up the action. Pun fully intended.
The stitched-together narrative of characters ultimately undermines the bigger themes around the corruption and anti-corruption for the characters, but it does allow the film to use the bigger-than-life screen presences of all the big namesakes included.
A plastered-on cast
The cast, to be fair, is exactly the reason to see Section 8. Kwantan has proven to be quite the leading force for these lower and mid-tier films (seriously, go watch Blunt Force Trauma (2015) as it’s an overlooked gem) and he’s surrounded by a who’s who of names.
The second-billed Dolph Lundgren gets more to do in this film than I expected, showing up throughout to lend his hulking bravado when necessary. Even Dermot Mulroney, showing up as the head of the black ops organization, gets to eat scenery with his team.
The disjointed narrative speed bumps that litter the film are borderline forgivable considering how each scene has someone that’s pulling out a fork and knife to eat up the cliche dialogue and thinly guised character development. I can still hear the silverware scratching on the plates.
However, Mickey Rourke feels utterly disjointed from the rest of the film and the script does Tracy Perez very few favors as a character. Section 8 is not the best-written film when it comes to presenting women or people of color as more than generalized stereotypes, so don’t come into this film for any real social commentary or in-depth analysis about the state of veterans in the United States like Chris Pine’s portrayal in The Contractor (2022) did earlier this year. That’s not this film. That breaks the formula too much.
Act on action
Despite its flaws in characters and script being carried by its cast, Section 8 does flourish in some of its action set pieces. Director Sesma has plenty of experience in the low-budget action realm (he’s released four films in the last two years) and he gets to showcase some of that experience here.
Although the budgetary constraints limit some of the bigger sequences, including a home invasion that the film just kind of skips despite its setup, the film hits hard when it matters.
A night shootout between two parties has some great visual pops and the film ends with a brutally hard-hitting final showdown between Kwanten and Adkins that results in tons of high kicks and bloodied faces. Adkins also has an additional fantastic casino hit sequence that feels like it’s fairly random but totally entertains so no judgment.
A possible franchise?
Section 8 isn’t the kind of mid-tier action flick that’s going to revolutionize the market by any means, but for anyone looking to burn 90 minutes, it will do. It’s the quintessential cinematic comfort food for those who appreciate action flicks working with small bits and trying to aim for something more.
It doesn’t have a great script or a cohesive narrative, which presents its own problems in developing characters beyond stereotypes, but Section 8 does deliver enough entertainment to warrant a watch by curious fans.
If anything, perhaps it warrants at least one sequel. Sesma and company have laid the groundwork and if we’ve already had 3000 Sniper films, why not a Section 9? Why not?
Editor & Artwork: Richard Williams
Images and trailer courtesy of RLJE Films
Writer, podcaster, cinema fiend, drive-in mutant, kung fu fanatic, horror hound, vulgar auteur, and sometimes human being. I’ve been writing about cinema for over ten years now, dedicating my time to all genre cinema. Co-creator of Blood Brother Film Reviews and co-host of the No Franchise Fatigue podcast.