The Dark, 2018.
Directed by Justin P. Lange.
Starring Nadia Alexander, Toby Nichols, Sarah Murphy-Dyson, Karl Markovics, Dan Beirne, and Margarete Tiesel.
An undead teenage girl befriends a blind boy that she meets in a forest she haunts and hunts in. Both have been victims of unimaginable abuse, and each finds solace in the other. There may be a chance of light at the end of their tunnel, but it will come with a body count.
Justin P. Lange’s The Dark distills trauma into an undead creature-feature brew lacking bitter flavors. Those who’ve been wronged must face what scarred them in the first place. In horror, such storytelling is commonplace. Flashback to uncomfortable sexual advances or parental neglect, then snap to reality where characters must confront their darkest fears. Lange falls back onto customary thematic connectors, but his delivery is more scattershot than collected. A merciless fable with no introduction and pages ripped out; characters caught in a supernatural land of confusion too dull for ponderous sparks to fly.
Mina (Nadia Alexander) haunts a lonely stretch of woods where the young child’s sexually abusive father buried her battered corpse. One day she finds Alex (Toby Nichols), a boy with burned eyes left alone by his abuser. Together they traverse forest trails and “handle” anyone who gets in their way, but these weary companions cannot outrun their pasts. As Mina recalls her despicable upbringing, Alex keeps asking when Joseph (Karl Markovics) – his kidnapper – will return. No time soon, since Mina killed him. With only each other, Alex and Mina search for safety until plans fully hatch – but can Mina even escape her undefined state?
My struggle is finding a tie between Mina and Alex’s conjoined journey towards salvation and multiple slash-and-tear encounters. Volunteers search for Alex, Mina kills multiple parties – but she keeps Alex alive? One can understand their arcs meld when heated by the fires of unimaginable personal agony, but The Dark doesn’t pay substantial attention to justifying Mina’s life as a feral woodland demon or Alex’s ability to still be living. Boy meets beast, they share heartbreaking experiences, and embark on a joint quest together. Sound on paper, but distractingly simplistic in execution.
Lange’s downfall is a disjointed vision that isolates horror locales – root-covered cabins, backwoods wanderers – but without establishing character or concrete need. Alex appears just as deformed as Mina, yet he’s alive and she’s deceased? By immediately jumping into Alex’s grim circumstance, mystery develops that’s left unfavorably vague. Death befalls passerbys, Alex questions being a prisoner, Mina’s mythology builds, yet connections rarely offer a complete tragedy. Frankly, The Dark feels like a much better short concept than a 90-minute feature (which, coincidentally, it was). Slight on illumination, heavy on painful remembrance.
Nadia Alexander delivers a strong performance as Mina, this pint-sized shadow lurker who’s gangrene face displays bludgeon wounds that caused her death. She’s a mini-monster drawing from Dafne Keen’s Logan performance with lesser means of animalistic attack. Toby Nichols’ blind wandering and whimpering are that of a victim’s guilt, stunted by the script’s murky emotional development. Alexander’s fierceness can be counted on, as well as her grappling with the family she’s found in Nichols’ lost boy. Mina frees Alex but is met with immediate contempt – it’s a cleverly acted-out relationship failed by the film’s length and airlessness.
The Dark keys in on mistreatment, honors the power in shared experience, but as a feature film erected around the most dreadfully sickening abusive realities, nothing new emerges. Mina and Alex go about their blood-covered journey as characters waltz in and out, their significance never felt. Justin P. Lange’s crux is failed children forced to rebuild on their own, yet the slow, plodding nature of cut-and-paste sequencing makes for a less than stimulating bleak fairy tale lore. Lensed with confidence and eerily inclined, just lacking a poignancy or urgency of more composed coming-of-self nightmares marred by tragedy.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★★ / Movie: ★★
Matt spends his after-work hours posting nonsense on the internet instead of sleeping like a normal human. He seems like a pretty cool guy, but don’t feed him after midnight just to be safe (beers are allowed/encouraged). Follow him on Twitter/Instagram (@DoNatoBomb).