It should be said at the top of this review – that I am an impatient viewer. I don’t like lingering, I’m not a fan of sitting and stewing, and I don’t like to loiter. I’m a story-centric person, and unfortunately for The Dark – its simple premise struggled to satiate as a feature-length film – even though it’s dripping in emotion and intrigue into its under-explored subject matter.
The Dark has flipped over the monster movie like a heavy stone, opting to situate itself in the wet, potato-bug filled crevice. We are underneath, looking at what being a monster is from a vantage point audiences aren’t oft treated to. This is Frankenstein after he’s been separated from his father, spurned by the world, and traipsing the cold tundra alone. This is The Wolfman after he’s ripped his pants and succumbed to the night sky (less poetic, but still fun imagery). A sympathetic monster trying to crawl out from under a shadow of what we expect monsters to be.
Perhaps the biggest problem with having a simple premise, is you allow yourself very little breathing room when marketing. What will your IMDB blurb be, your trailer, your little Wikipedia sentence when the film is searched via Google? How much will your audience know when they finally sit into their theatre seats? For The Dark – the answer is – too much.
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The Dark is a mostly-linear story. A walk through the woods. The film’s reveals are anticipated, predictable – which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.. but when you go into it knowing the girl is a monster, and she befriends the boy that happens upon her doorstep – well, you’re going to spend a lot of this film waiting for the things you know to unfold. And if you’re me – hoping the filmmakers do it quick and efficiently.
Though arguably better suited for a short film, which The Dark was originally and is adapted from, the concept is fresh and interesting. (Side note: I haven’t seen the 2013 short film. But – I’d like to make a guess that it’s the scene from the trailer where the pair are walking through the woods and Mina, the actual monster, is describing the lore of the ‘monster of the woods’. That moment is pure perfection – enough so that I would trim away this entire film and have it only be that scene. And if that is indeed the short.. well..)
Mina, played by Nadia Alexander, is emotive, expressive, and beautifully pained – even with thick, monsterific contact lenses and some heavy brow prosthetics. It’s hard to make emotions without eyebrows. Toby Nichols, who plays the blind boy Alex, is unfortunately given a little less to work with – his eyes are filled out entirely with goopy, gaudy ‘scar tissue’ – which is necessary for the boy’s journey in befriending Mina. He can’t run from what he isn’t afraid of – and he isn’t afraid of Mina, because to Alex she sounds like and is a regular girl. Even if she’s slightly rabid and killed his.. guardian.
So, we’re stuck between a rock and a wet place. We enjoy watching Mina, what she’s become, what she’s becoming – but just how long can she sustain our interest? First time Filmmaker Justin P. Lange (who both wrote and directed this film), is aware of this. Throughout The Dark, he throws foes at the pair to roadblock them on the way to friendship. But none of these potential villains are allowed to commandeer the plot – it remains about Mina and Alex’s journey. Perhaps to the film’s detriment. Every roadblock that arises is quickly thwarted, which causes a strange roller coaster of pacing. Threat, no threat, threat, no threat. So we must ask – why do they exist, if not for plot? Is it to filibuster? To turn a short into a feature?
The Dark isn’t for everyone. The impatient, like me, will be buzzing in their chairs by the halfway mark – hoping for some chaos, a little razzle dazzle. But if you love character explorations, and want to see a heartfelt horror with a nice emotional shift from typical monster fare, you may find yourself enjoying this little jaunt in the woods.
The Dark held its Toronto Premiere at the Toronto After Dark Film Festival. The film is being distributed by Dark Sky Films and will hit VOD October 26th.