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THE DARK

A disappointment. This 2004 film is plenty weird, yes, and fairly well made, but also clumsy and misconceived.

The Package
     THE DARK was purportedly based on the novel SHEEP by Simon Maginn, but, speaking as one who’s read it, I found very little evidence of that outside the Welsh setting and the presence of sheep. A far greater influence appears to be Nicolas Roeg’s classic film DON’T LOOK NOW, which focused on a grief-stricken couple dealing with the death of a child.
     THE DARK was the third feature directed by Canada’s John Fawcett, following THE BOYS CLUB (1997) and the wildly popular GINGER SNAPS (2000). He attracted some strong talent for THE DARK, including Maria Bello (A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE, DOWNLOADING SARAH) and Sean Bean (THE LORD OF THE RINGS, NATIONAL TEASURE). Interestingly enough, filmmaker Paul W.S. Anderson is listed as co-producer; P.W.S. Anderson (not to be confused with Paul Thomas Anderson or Wes Anderson) is of course best known as the helmer of trashy flicks like MORTAL COMBAT, RESIDENT EVIL and ALIEN VS. PREDATOR, and I don’t know the extent of his involvement on THE DARK.

The Story
     Adele and her young daughter Sarah arrive at the Welsh cliff-side home of Adele’s husband James. The middle aged Dafydd, who lives nearby, tells Adele about an eccentric family who previously lived in James’ house, and who practiced an odd religion inspired by pre-Christian Welsh folklore, notably the concept of “Annwn,” a dark realm where the dead reside.
     The following day Sarah abruptly disappears while frolicking on the rocks below the house, having presumably been swept away by the sea. Adele and James scour the area but find no trace of their daughter.
     That night Adele spots a girl outside the house and, believing it to be Sarah, follows her into the local abattoir. The girl is Ebrill, the daughter of a deceased shepherd. Ebrill actually died years earlier, having been killed in a bizarre religious ceremony…only to be subsequently brought back to life. Dafydd, a boy at the time, killed her again, only to have her return to life one more time.
     Ebrill steadfastly claims to know where Sarah is. Adele and James allow Ebrill to stay in their house, just as Adele hears Sarah calling to her and finds the girl’s sweater stuck in a wall. Eventually Adele concludes that Sarah is trapped in Annwn, and so jumps into the sea and enters Annwn herself…

The Direction
     The script for THE DARK is a bit of a mess, juggling realty-based drama and hallucinatory horror in singularly clumsy fashion, but John Fawcett’s skilled and confident direction makes it work…almost. The filmmaking has a gritty immediacy that, coupled with the scenic Welsh locales, compels attention. The photography is quite fine and the lead performance of Maria Bello fairly strong (although it’s never explained why she’s the only person in the film who doesn’t have an English accent).
     Outside the clunkiness of the narrative, the film suffers from repetitiveness: there are only so many times the filmmakers can repeat shots of the heroine searching her basement with a flashlight or wandering dangerously close to a cliff edge. The final trip into Annwn is also a disappointment, rendering the ages-old land of the dead as, essentially, a low rent variant on the look of SILENT HILL (2006), complete with jittery music video-esque editing.
     As for the multi-twist ending, it’s unexpected and intriguing, but also, in keeping with the rest of the film, excessively scatterbrained and misconceived, bringing up far more questions than it answers--and no, the alternate ending contained on the DVD doesn’t help matters at all.
 

Vital Statistics

THE DARK
Constantin Film/Impact Pictures

Director: John Fawcett
Producers: Jeremy Bolt, Paul W.S. Anderson
Screenplay: Stephen Massicotte
(Based on SHEEP by Simon Maginn)
Cinematography: Christian Sebaldt
Editing: Chris Gill
Cast: Maria Bello, Sean Bean, Maurice Roeves, Sophie Stuckey, Abigail Stone, Richard Elfyn, Casper Harvey, Eluned Jones, Gwenyth Petty, Robin Griffith, Mike Keegan, Tonya Smith

     

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