By David Dent
There’s a nice bit of wrongfooting that goes on at the beginning of The Dark. A guy, seemingly lost, walks into a convenience store in the middle of the woods, and finds out he’s in an area called ‘Devil’s Den.’ The shopkeeper tells the guy that the location “sure has its share of scary stories” – so far, so standard setup.
But the shopkeeper doesn’t get to expand because the visitor, who it turns out is a dangerous escaped convict, shoots him, and attempts to make off in a stolen car, complete with kidnapped and blinded boy. Except he doesn’t get far, and is attacked and killed by a feral beast in the approximate shape of a young girl.
The young girl is Mina, the kidnapped boy is Alex, and the rest of the film is theirs. For reasons that can’t be disclosed because of plot spoilers, Mina is a heavily scarred girl who just happens to feast on human flesh. Her friendship with Alex develops largely because he can’t see her face (remember the Frankenstein monster and the blind hermit in the 1935 classic The Bride of Frankenstein?) but both are caught up in their own worlds of pain and gradually learn to support each other.
If this account makes the movie sound strange, well it is. Tonally it’s not sure if it wants to be an all out horror film or an emo-drama, so it does both. And although I mentioned the spoiler issue, nothing is really explained in the film, which is fine if you just go with it, but more annoying if you’d like things a little more tidied up. In overall feel, not content, I was reminded on more than one occasion of Jonathan Glazer’s 2013 oddity Under the Skin.
But the two performances of Toby Nichols as Alex and particularly Nadia Alexander as Mina save the day. There’s not a lot going on elsewhere, so the audience looks to the relationship between the two characters for engagement – the development of their strange friendship, with the realisation that Mina, without an awful lot of self control, will always see Alex as dinner, provides constant tension.
The Dark is by no means a perfect film, but first time feature directors Justin P. Lange and Klemens Hufnagl have their hearts in the right place. They might need to sharpen up their storytelling skills for their next one, but their debut has a lot to like.