Many of us have seen them.
They slowly make their way down your hallway to the bedroom door. You try to look away, but you can’t move. You try to scream, but your throat closes up and your cries for help merely dribble past your lips. These dark, somewhat familiar shapes worm their long fingers into your mind, driving your near insanity with fear. They stand over your bed and hold you prisoner, only letting you free when you give in to their demands. Some call them nightmares, or demons. Others describe it as “sleep paralysis”, but in Andres Rovira’s full-length feature debut, Between the Darkness, it’s what sets you free.
Set in a wilderness sanctuary, Between the Darkness follows the lives of a single father, Roy Grady (Lew Temple) and his two children, Sprout and Percy (Nichole Moorea Sherman and Tate Birchmore). They’ve come to this remote cabin to celebrate the life of their sister Magda (Daniela Leon), who passed away a year before.
You can tell right away that there is something different about this family. They adhere to the old gods, taking their names and personalities from the gods they deem their patrons. Roy follows the teachings of Harpocrates, the god of silence, secrets and confidentiality (red flag alert), while the late Magda worshipped Aphrodite, the goddess of love, beauty, passion and pleasure. Sprout and Percy, on the other hand, haven’t found their patron gods yet, so they follow their father in the worship of the quiet god.
Homeschooled from birth, Sprout and Percy are taught that the outside world is full of evil and “otherness”. When they stray from the teachings of the gods, they invite this otherness into their lives. This leads to crises of faith, and a potential eternity spent in Tartarus, the deep abyss of torment and suffering designed for the wicked. Sprout, however, has been receiving a dark visitor at night, forcing her to question her father’s faith and wonder what secrets Harpocrates is helping him keep.
“It’s in these nightmare sequences where Rovira truly flourishes. “
It’s in these nightmare sequences where Rovira truly flourishes. I was genuinely shocked at the level of unease I felt as I watched these scenes unfold. Sprout is stalked in the nighttime by a dark shape that she refers to as a Gorgon (like Medusa of old). It opens the door to her room, freezing her in place like the shadowy figures many of us have experience with. As viewers, we’re held in place much like the young girl, wanting to scream and squirm, but unable to do so. Later in the film, we are told what this being really is, and it reduces the creep factor by a ton, but the majority of the film is spent looking in the shadows, hoping that we don’t see anything moving.
Partway through the film, we meet Park Ranger Stella and her son Max, played by Danielle Harris and Max Woodhouse. They are there to check in on the family, and to flirt a little with Roy and Sprout, respectively. Now, any film that has Danielle Harris in it gets an automatic boost from me, but it’s a tragedy how little she is in Between the Darkness. Sure, she plays an important character whose arc is the catalyst for the climax, but it’s a major disappointment that she gets so little to do with her limited screen time. Every second she does get fills the scene with life and light that dwarves the performances of the other actors around her.
At some point, you have to weigh the benefit of having Harris in a movie of this size versus the effect she will have on the audience. It’s great to have her name attached to your film, certainly, but Harris is an actual actress. She’s talented to the point that anyone caught in her vicinity on-screen is overshadowed by her work. While Sherman wilts a bit under the emotional demands of Sprout’s story, both her and Temple deliver commendable performances as a family unit on the brink of collapse. When Harris enters the frame, however, the viewer finds themselves saying “Oh, right… that’s how you act”.
In the world of Between the Darkness, we are forced to navigate a world of gods and monsters. While the final act falters a bit and descends into an overlong examination of the countryside, the majority of the film is very enjoyable. Rovira has an eye, that’s for damn sure. The sound mixing was a bit all over the place, but there isn’t a visual in the film that isn’t absolutely gorgeous. He doesn’t try to throw a cat at you to make you jump, instead, he takes a page from the Carpenter Book by using shadow and shape to creep you out.
“At the end of the night, you’ll watch your bedroom doorway a lot more closely, and you’ll begin to wonder if your Tartarus isn’t right there in your own backyard.”
The story is… fine. I could have spent more time with Ranger Stella and with Sprout in her nightmare world, but overall, the plot was fine. I’m not sure it carried the weight that Rovira hoped it would, but it served as a perfectly acceptable home for his visuals to live in. If you’re looking for a creepy story about the secrets we keep and the monsters inside us all that we use religion to hide, give Between the Darkness a shot. At the end of the night, you’ll watch your bedroom doorway a lot more closely, and you’ll begin to wonder if your Tartarus isn’t right there in your own backyard.
Between the Darkness is now available on VOD as of August 20th. Join our Horror Movie Fiend Club over on Facebook and let us know what you think of the movie. Or, you can hit us up on twitter @NOFSpodcast. While you’re at it, be sure to bookmark our homepage at Nightmare on Film Street to keep up to date on all the hottest horror news, reviews and retrospectives the internet has to offer.