Monday, May 21, 2018

In Darkness: Murder She Heard

There are a fair number of pianists to be found in classic giallos. Most likely, it is because of the genre’s obsession with hands—often donning patent leather gloves and wrapped around a woman’s throat. For a while, it seems like this film will paying homage to the J&B whiskey-guzzling Italian tradition. It even opens with the blind pianist scoring a neo-retro-giallo. Alas, the screenplay then gets “topical,” throttling the good vibes of Anthony Byrne’s In Darkness (trailer here), co-written and co-produced with his fiancé and star, Natalie Dormer, which opens this Friday in New York.

Sofia is light-sensitive, but legally blind. Nevertheless, she gets around London just fine on her own. She knows her upstairs neighbor Veronique by the smell of her perfume. At least, she did until the disturbed young woman took a header out the window. However, the scuffle she overheard suggests homicide rather than suicide. It turns out, the hot mess neighbor had a notorious father—alleged Bosnian Serb war criminal Zoran Radic.

The bad news is the killer got a good look at her. Fortunately, he also knows she is blind. In fact, Marc, the brooding murderer will keep an eye out for Sofia as she gets swept up in the aftermath. It turns out Veronique had an incriminating flash-drive, loaded with dirt on Daddy Dearest. However, before the film settles into a one-set, three-act thriller in the tradition of Wait Until Dark, we start to learn Sofia also has her own Balkan connections.

The first half-hour or so of In Darkness is not bad, because it largely employs old school stage-thriller techniques, including the home invading murderer slowly skulking around the oblivious Sofia. Frustratingly, the more it reveals of its exploitative back story, the less effective it becomes. To make matters worse, Byrne and Dormer frequently lay some pretty patchy groundwork to establish their future revelations.

Still, Dormer has some nifty noir thriller chemistry with her Game of Thrones co-star Ed Skrein, as the conflicted killer. Ben Wheatley-regular Neil Maskell nicely plays against type as the shlubby but doggedly honest DI Oscar Mills. However, the highlight of the film is Joely Richardson’s flamboyant scenery chewing as Alex, Marc’s sharp-tongued and sharp-clawed sister and security consultant boss. Plus, with the appearance of James Cosmos, dependably weathered, as Sofia old comrade, In Darkness scores the GoT hattrick.

In the case of In Darkness, less probably would have been much more. Frankly, its political intrigue does not make much sense and bears little relation to reality. The notion the British government is sheltering Radic from the Russians is particularly dubious, considering how war-time Serbia and Srpska have tilted towards Putin. Frankly, the West fiddled while Sarajevo burned, but we have pretty diligent about apprehending and extraditing Bosnian Serb war criminals, because closing the barn door after the fact is what we do best.

There are some sparks between Dormer and Skrein, but ultimately, they are undermined by a messy narrative and questionable character reveals. Cinematographer Si Bell gives it all a stylish, tantalizingly-close-to-giallo look, but that just makes us pine for the delicious lunacy of Peter Strickland’s retro giallo freak-out, Berberian Sound Studio. We wish we could send it back to the editing bay, but as it stands, In Darkness is too inconsistent to recommend when it opens this Friday (5/25) in New York, at the Cinema Village.