Wednesday, May 02, 2018

Tribeca ’18: The Dark

Many zombie movies will briefly show us young undead children, but there never have the guts to focus on them for an extended period of time. However, we will spend quite a bit of time with the formerly living Mina. Frankly, we might only know she is a zombie, because publicity materials describe her that way. She could just as easily be some kind of grudge thingy that died a horrifically violent death. Either way, she is extremely pissed off, but she will take on a new role as protector of the innocent in Justin P. Lange’s The Dark, which premiered at the 2018 Tribeca Film Festival.

The neck of the woods known as Devil’s Den is as evil as it sounds, mostly because that is where Mina stalks her prey. For some reason, the fugitive pedophile Hofer feels compelled to go there, but we never understand why. In any event, Mina is waiting for him and gosh, are things going to get ugly. Apparently, that is business as usual for her, but she is rather taken aback when she discovers Hofer’s latest victim under wraps in the back seat of his car.

Poor Alex has been blinded, perhaps to foster a dependency on Hofer. He has also been terrorized into thinking his compliance will protect his family from harm, perhaps not without some cause. Nevertheless, a bond quickly forms between the two victimized children as they try to figure out what to do next.

The Dark wants to be a provocative allegory about child abuse, but the glaring narrative gaps distract from the higher level of significance it strives for. We do not understand why Hofer has come to Devil’s Den and we are not sure if the next batch of meat Mina runs through her grinder are also part of his pedophilia ring. Even the final payoff scene has a disconcertingly ambiguous vibe. As a result, viewers will be so distracted wondering why things happen, the big picture takeaways will most likely buzz right by them.

It is a shame, because the first twenty minutes or so constitute a breathlessly intense mini-arc. All three featured thesps hold up their ends of the film, especially young but remarkably bold Nadia Alexander as Mina and Karl Markovics, from The Counterfeiters, who is spectacularly sleazy and sinister as Hofer.

Cinematographer Klemens Hufnagl gives the film a chillingly eerie, washed out look, while she and Lange fully exploit Devil’s Den’s sense of isolation. There is a little bit of gore here and there, but the worst of it is kept off camera. Alas, the same is mostly true of internal logic as well.

A good deal of talent went into The Dark, but the screenplay could have gone through five or six more drafts. Too often things happen just to facilitate something more important happening down the line. A lot of genre fans will be frustrated by its gaps and glossed over shortcuts, but impressed by its cold, clammy atmosphere. Mostly just recommended for its core horror audience, The Dark next screens during Fantaspoa in Brazil, following its world premiere at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival.

(FYI, also check out the Tribeca round-table wrap-up at Unseen Films, with J.B. and Steve Kopian, moderated by Peter Gutierez, here.)