THE DARK (Sony Pictures)
Reviewed by AUDREY QUARANTA
MOVIE: 3½ skulls
DVD PACKAGE: 1½ skulls
On a DVD that lacks today’s typical array of special features, the movie itself has to (gasp!) carry the entire package. THE DARK is a far-from-perfect film, but its positive aspects are strong enough to hold this disc’s head above the icy Welsh waves.
THE DARK, directed by John (GINGER SNAPS) Fawcett, is about Adele (A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE’s Maria Bello), a woman who moves to the Welsh countryside with her daughter Sarah (Sophie Stuckey from CLOSE YOUR EYES) to live with her estranged husband James, played by Sean (THE LORD OF THE RINGS) Bean. When Sarah drowns mysteriously off the coast, Adele begins hearing her daughter’s disturbing cries for help and searches for their source. What she uncovers is a web of dark secrets—a religious cult, mass suicide and an underwater portal to the Dark, the Celtic afterlife, where she must face pure evil in hopes of using the rule “One of the living for one of the dead” to get Sarah back.
This doesn’t turn out to be the most original storyline, as Stephen Massicotte’s script (loosely based on Simon Maginn’s novel SHEEP) has strong echoes of both THE RING and the classic DON’T LOOK NOW. The plot, however, is still interesting, and filled with enough mystery, twists and turns to keep you curious and excited until the end. Things are never brought to full clarity, though, and Internet message boards have been rife with debates over how THE DARK is to be interpreted and where we leave off with the characters when it ends. Yet the multiple possibilities we are left with are more fun to consider than they are irritating; the movie is confounding, but in an enjoyable way.
One thing it’s hard to get one’s head around is the lack of believable grief expressed by the parents at Sarah’s disappearance. Adele and James scream and weep when they first realize she’s gone, but in what seems to be an extremely short amount of time, James is well-composed and Adele is clear-eyed and ready to investigate. It makes you think, “Your child is probably dead! Cry some more, will you?” The acting is otherwise excellent from the small cast, which also includes newcomer Abigail Stone as creepy resurrected child Ebrill and Maurice (BEAUTIFUL CREATURES) Roeves as a handyman who reveals her disturbing history. Bello and Bean play their roles beautifully, delving into the depths of their characters’ consciences. The mother/daughter dynamic is a major subtext, and Bello and Stuckey give it the strength it needs to be emotionally gripping.
In fact, the previously discussed flaw can be attributed to THE DARK’S biggest overall problem: pacing. Things that deserve more time—Sarah’s drowning, the frightening trepanning sequences—feel rushed, while a lot of time is spent in what feels like “in between” moments of waiting for more to happen or be revealed. The ending feels drawn out—while it is a succession of plot twists at rapid fire, it might have been better for the film as a whole to spread these twists throughout, rather than throwing them all at us in the last 15 minutes, as we wait impatiently for the make-or-break-all finale.
Despite this, THE DARK is shot so well that the pace of these scenes never becomes an “Oh, just turn it off!” problem. The location is ominous and haunting, and Fawcett utilizes it perfectly. He and cinematographer Christian (STARSHIP TROOPERS 2) Sebaldt use shadings of light and dark to make the scenery go from beautiful to dangerous as the movie progresses. Each scene presents raw, powerful images, helped a great deal by the lack of anything “fancy.” There are very few major FX shots; everything is either left to the imagination or presented in a gritty, realistic style that draws the viewer in.
Given this artistry and the fine presentation (1.85:1 widescreen with Dolby Digital 5.1 sound), the unfortunate lack of significant extras on this disc is a particular letdown. There is an alternate ending which is slightly more optimistic but less powerful—the filmmakers were smart in choosing a different conclusion, but it is still interesting to see another way things could’ve turned out. The only other supplement we get is a selection of previews, which contain a small gem: a trailer for the original AMITYVILLE HORROR. Other than that, we got nothin’. DVDs, like it or not, ushered in an age when a major appeal of movie-purchasing is the inside extras this format is able to treat us with—and this disc offers no such rewards.
Overall, THE DARK—although it has its definite flaws—is a good enough watch in and of itself to make this disc worth owning, or at least renting. It is just disappointing that a good flick like this one loses the opportunity to provide many DVD collectors what they most look forward to—that little wrapped box with a bow on top that entices us with the “goodies” inside.