The real-life horrors of child abuse have often turned up in genre films, sometimes as the subject matter, as in THE GIRL NEXT DOOR but more often as part of a serial killer’s origin story. In THE DARK, the debut feature from writer/director Justin P. Lange (THE SEVENTH DAY), it’s part of the backstory for both of the leads. Indeed, the film is as much about the two damaged kids as it is about the violence that has, and continues to shape their existence. The fact that one kills and eats people is, at times, almost incidental.
Josef (Karl Markovics) is a man on the run. We find this out from a news bulletin, knowledge that costs a shopkeeper their life. Fleeing he breaks into an abandoned house in the woods, (is this EVER a good idea?), only to find a room that’s well kept and filled with drawings. He also meets its occupant, Mina (Nadia Alexander, BOARDING SCHOOL) a young girl with a scarred face, immunity to bullets and a taste for human flesh.
In his car she finds Alex (Toby Nichols IRON FIST), a young boy with his eyes sewn shut. A victim of physical and sexual abuse by her mother and stepfather she’s touched by his condition and lets him live. An unlikely relationship develops between the two, but it comes at a price
This is as much a character story of two damaged individuals than a horror movie. Viewers should be aware of that going in, expect a traditional scare show and you’ll be disappointed. Lange uses the framework to examine all to real horrors and human monsters. Yes, there are shocks and killings, but they’re not the focus here. It’s on the relationship between the two survivors of abuse and how they bond and the effect they have on each other. Will he remind her enough of what it was like to be human, or will his suffering cause him to join her in the darkness?
Expanded from the director’s short of the same name, THE DARK is just that, dark. It’s grim and downbeat, not an easy film to watch at all. But it is a powerful one that will stay with you, especially if you give the ending some thought.
It’s not a perfect film, it’s slowly paced as though padding crept into the expansion from short to feature. The relative lack of dialogue and soundtrack but heightened background noise will also put off some viewers. But the film overcomes them for the most part and is worth putting in the effort for.
THE DARK is available in theaters and on VOD from Dark Sky Films October 26th.