Thursday, August 21, 2014

Macabro ’14: Darkness by Day

Had Lillian Hellman ever written a horror film set in provincial Argentina, it might have looked a lot like this. Shades of J. Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla are also easily discernible in Martín Desalvo’s near two-hander, Darkness by Day (trailer here), which screens during this year’s Macabro, the Mexico City International Film Festival.

Virginia leads a sheltered life on the family’s ancestral estate in the middle of nowhere. At his brother’s behest, her father leaves Virginia home alone to check on her critically ill cousin Julia. As soon as he leaves, Virginia’s other cousin Anabel arrives in a state of extreme exhaustion. Something is clearly vexing her too. She has no appetite and only seems to rouse herself at night. These are also odd times in the village at large. There are reports of a rabies outbreak and other young women seem to be suffering from symptoms similar to those afflicting Julia.

Strangely, the confused Virginia cannot seem to reach her father by cell or land line. Yet, as Anabel strengthens, the shy woman becomes more enthralled by her mysterious cousin. This seems to greatly concern her father and uncle when they finally return bearing bad news.

It would be interesting to watch Darkness in close dialogue with Mauricio Chernovetzky & Mark Devendorf’s The Curse of Styria, which also screens at Macabro. Both favor mood and atmosphere over blood and cheap thrills, but Darkness is an especially slow builder. Unlike Styria, Josefina Trotta’s screenplay eventually embraces the lesbian overtones of Le Fanu’s classic. In fact, Darkness is quite Hellmanesque, depicting the cousins’ fathers as not just paternal but paternalistic.

Mora Recalde (Desalvo’s real life partner) compellingly portrays Virginia’s innocence and her subsequent fall from grace. She subtly hints at the young woman’s possible arrest development, without overplaying her hand. However, Romina Paula really ought to be more seductive as Anabel.

Visually, Darkness is unusually elegant, creepy, and evocative by horror movies standards, thanks to the first class work of cinematographer Nicolás Trovato and art director Fernanda Challi. That old spooky family manse was a real find. Recommended for genre fans who appreciate moodier gothic films, Darkness by Day screens this Sunday (8/24) and next Friday (8/29), as part of the 2014 Macabro. Also recommended, the thematically related Curse of Styria launches the festival with a free screening tonight (8/21).