By Elias Savada.
Dark is another day (and night) in the life of a West Virginny girl in the Big City. It begins with a lesbian couple au naturel yet, also, oh so much in despair. Their lovemaking could be interpreted as break-up sex (at least for one of them). Soon 32-year-old commitment-phobic, former model Kate Naylor (Texas-born Whitney Able, a TV and indie film regular best know for her role in Gareth Edwards’ breakthrough Monsters, 2010, a film in which she met and co-starred with her future husband, Scoot McNairy), now an off-again-on-again cigarette-smoking yoga instructor, unsure of her future with commercial photographer Leah (The Walking Dead‘s Alexandra Breckenridge).
The set-up of the characters covers the first 20 minutes, and then the the tag line sets in. “On August 14th, 2003, NYC went dark.” It’s actually broad (but cloudy) daylight in Brooklyn (shot and set there). Kate munches on some food from the fridge that might not be salvageable under the circumstances. The Dale’s Ale beer (not the excellent pale brew from Oskar Blues) is getting warm, as is the air in her apartment. The story could have taken a turn to a poisoned ingénue approach, but opts for a different direction. Cell phones don’t work. She can’t connect to her Hotmail account through her laptop. Her drowsy day gets so boring she plugs new batteries into an aging boom box/radio to get some music and news in the still air. It’s also recollection (good, bad, medical) time, courtesy of a stash of old photos.
Anyway, the deliberate pace of Dark‘s first third fades as Kate drains her home of anything alcoholic before venturing out into the streets, the night illuminated by drums of fire and various flashlights. Hopping into a neighborhood bar, she hooks up with scruffy Canadian Benoit (Michael The Call Eklund), apparently forgetting she’s a lesbian. Small talk ensues among lost-soul drunks, as she shimmies into wannabe bad girl mode. Scars are revealed. Too many drinks are consumed. And then Beniot seems all but forgotten. The other male in a supporting role is Brendan Sexton III, popping in all too briefly as her disoriented, loquacious neighbor John.
As you’ll discover, this is Able’s movie. With a passing resemblance to Julia Stiles, she’s a hot blonde who takes director Nick Basile’s direction well to present a boldly realistic character tumbling down a deep, dark hole. Not too shabby, considering Dark is Basile’s first fictional feature (his decade-old doc American Carny: True Tales from the Circus Sideshow is a charming look at Coney Island carnival life). Unfortunately, Basile keeps the pacing too slow for today’s thrill-seeking audiences who might be lead to believe Dark is has more physical terror than psychological.
The film was just picked up for U.S. release later this year by Screen Media. No doubt having Gremlins director Joe Dante aboard as an executive producer helped secure this deal. This Kickstarter-financed, Conradian journey into depression and madness (with a side of self-flagellation) finally hoists up the fright banner at the one-hour mark, during a restive suicidal moment. Nothing like a good shadow to knock some shock into the main, now completely nude, character. And a bunch of spooky sounds in an unlit stairwell to tease the unsettled stomach.
Alas, I did have major issues with the movie, aside from the pacing and the premise. Less talk, more action would have been nice in Elias a.k.a. Elias Ganster’s screenplay (from a story he wrote with Basile). [Disclosure Notice: I am an executive producer on Elias’s forthcoming feature Ayla.] The climax also did not impress, albeit this was strictly on a logical, continuity level. Here, candles don’t self-dampen by some supernatural entity, and intruders don’t usually go speechless. Yet, someone like Kate, teetering on the brink of insanity, might not notice these such common-sense issues that rattled my brain.
Dark, a by-the-numbers thriller of sorts, isn’t quite dark enough.
Elias Savada is a movie copyright researcher, critic, craft beer geek, and avid genealogist based in Bethesda, Maryland. He helps program the Spooky Movie International Movie Film Festival, and previously reviewed for Film Threat and Nitrate Online. He is an executive producer of the new horror film German Angst and co-author, with David J. Skal, of Dark Carnival: the Secret World of Tod Browning.