‘The Dark’, another of the years festival movies to have made an impact on both fans and press alike is coming to Blu-ray and DVD this autumn. Take note to, it was a competitive summer!
The plot: Following his abduction and subsequent slaying of his captor, a blind teenager Alex finds an unlikely guardian in Mina, an undead teenager who haunts and hunts in the woods aptly nicknamed ‘The Devil’s Den’. Once they meet, they form a strong bond, instinctively protective of each other, a connection which is both catalysed and strengthened by their own abusive pasts. The story follows their path to redemption.
So not your typical horror movie then? No, and this trend is becoming increasingly popular to.
It’s a great time to be a genre fan! There seems to be an almost constant stream of high-quality niche and typical horror movies coming out at the moment, and for once fans seem happy to support both camps. This falls in the niche category for sure, and whilst the box art and inclusion of an ‘undead’ anti-hero would scream all sorts of comparisons to other wilderness slasher films, it couldn’t be further from the truth. ‘The Dark’ is a rather poignant themed drama with horror elements, one which touches on subjects of rape, abuse and the hierarchy of needs required for appropriate adolescent development. Heavy stuff.
The film is slow paced, at times really slow. Its character driven, and the dialogue between the two leads played by Nadia Alexander and Toby Nichols are often our only source of entertainment. It’s a tall order to, to entertain fans with stories of child abuse and isolation. As such, the tone of the movie, akin to its title, is dark, it’s a forlorn experience throughout, minimalistic, exposed and hopeless. Justin P. Lange has made a brave start to his career with this as his debut, he’s made a typically non-genre film feel like a horror movie, and it is horrific at times to watch – but not in a way genre fans are used to.
The more typical horror elements stand out as brash and gratuitous when compared to the often-long periods of silence or softly spoken conversation, the undead Mina’s ghoulish shrieks cut through the mix as she incapacitates and tears the flesh from her often innocent victims. These ‘loud’ scenes and some violent practical effects make the impact they need to show the contrasting feral nature of Mina’s defensive instincts against her compassion for Alex. These scenes may be few and far between throughout the films 90-minute runtime, but I doubt any horror fan would feel like they’ve been short changed.
The film forces you to question and feel. It forces you to watch a blind boy with his facial disfigurements fumble around in an expansive and unfamiliar environment which only highlights his vulnerability further. It makes you watch several well executed scenes of child exploitation, forcing split emotions as you watch Mina savagely attack people you know don’t deserve it, but to what extent can you attribute blame considering her experiences?
This isn’t the first horror movie to represent genre elements in film as blatant metaphors for real life issues, and I get there’s a fashion recently for making horror films with social commentary be it identity issues, gender or sexuality. However, I feel ‘The Dark’ perhaps over extends its themes.
Whilst trying to shock you it perhaps confuses its messages. Does child abuse create soulless monsters? Should there be more responsibility when reinforcing this cliché (however unintentional)? Does abuse on one person excuse their violence towards others?
For my taste the film explores some high impacting themes but doesn’t really have the depth or vision to really take these themes beyond the shock factor and really give the movie purpose. It wants to be different, to be bold, and it is, on the surface, but its contents read like newspaper headlines of hot topics as opposed to a textbook understanding of the true impacts on people’s lives.
That said, however, overall, as a piece of entertainment, I’ve no doubt it will find a niche amongst fans. As a film its competently shot, goes against the mould in terms of antagonist/protagonist relationships and cultivates a true atmosphere of sorrow and foreboding. For that ‘something different’ be sure to check it out. However, you cut it, it’s a strong debut for Mr Lange, lets see what he puts out next.