As the first film to be released under the FRIGHTFEST PRESENTS header, The Dark is a moody, atmospheric horror, with enough squish to hold the attention of gore fans, and something gentle and tender for those who like their horrors with a little more emotional depth.
The runaway success of the cinematic undead in the last decade or so has led to it being applied to every nuance of genre film possible. Horror, comedy, science fiction, Jane Austen novels, and The Dark takes it even further, melting child abuse into the pot.
Back from the dead teenager Mina lives in the woods, and eats people. Blind youngster Alex has been abducted by a man named Josef. When Mina attacks and eats Josef, she unwittingly lumbers herself with his kidnapped charge, and the two must take care of each other as police and locals hunting Alex draw in.
As they make their way through the woods, sleeping in caves, breaking and entering in order to stay fed, the movie focuses heavily on the relationship of the two, who have both suffered harrowing abuse. Reluctant to trust another, they ultimately choose to remain tied to one another rather than deal with the big bad world outside, the decision which ultimately frees them both of their respective ails.
Through a series of flashbacks, we’re shown parts of the unsettling story that brought Mina to her zombie fate, but a lot of the finer points of explanation are skimmed right over. In some cases they’re not necessarily needed, in others they can be ignored. But in a few, the lack of explanation can feel like a bit of a shame. Nadia Alexander (Shame, The Sinner) puts in a fantastic performance as poor, broken Mina, and to strip her character of the opportunity of a full explanation feels kind of unfair. Similarly with Alex, one of the most important parts of his story (I’m trying not to spoil this for you here) is mentioned just once, and no even remotely satisfactory explanation is offered.
Whilst we can’t be totally offended by Justin P. Lange trying to leave something to the imagination, the lack of backstory, especially as the film goes on, not only becomes bothersome in terms of our wider understanding of the characters, but means that the scares are compromised. As Mina becomes all the more human for spending time with Alex, and we are brought to see her as a fragile and battered young woman, we care less about the feral side of her personality, making the potentially more gruesome parts of the film softer round the edges. We’re left wanting more, and as far as that isn’t at all a bad thing, when you know you aren’t going to get it; it might just be.
This is a brave attempt at something different in a genre somewhat saturated in predictability and lore-imposed restriction, supported by meaty (sorry) performances, and a lush sound design that immerses you fully to the point of claustrophobia. However I felt about the lack of character depth, there was plenty to be enjoyed here. Sophie Francois
The Dark is released on 22nd October and is available for pre-order here