Clara (Andrea Demetriades, Nerve) returns to her late mother’s home. As she’s packing up she finds a book. But, as she begins to read its stories, she soon finds out The Book of Dark Whispers is not just any book, as she reads it, it starts to have an effect on the world outside of its covers. Written and directed by Megan Riakos (Crushed), this is the wraparound story for Dark Whispers: Volume 1 an Australian anthology composed of it plus ten segments directed by female directors.
The first segment, “Birthday Girl” by Angie Black (The Five Provocations) and writer Michael Harden is a mother/daughter ghost story set in a hospital elevator. It’s sad and touching rather than scary. While effective it’s a slightly odd choice for an opener.
“The Man Who Caught a Mermaid” directed by Kaitlin Tinker who co-wrote it with Jean-Philippe Lopez is next. Herb (Roy Barker, The Very Excellent Mr. Dundee) is a somewhat eccentric old man who fervently believes in mermaids. His faith in their existence is rewarded when he catches one while fishing. This is a much darker tale than the description might lead you to believe. Featuring some excellent practical effects and a couple of good twists it’s more what one would expect in a horror anthology.
“Gloomy Valentine” is a return to the more emotional mode of the first segment. Isabel Peppard (Morgana) and co-writer Warwick Burton craft a stop motion tale of heartbreak that’s as impressive a technical achievement as it is a storytelling one.
An actress (Astrid Wells Cooper, The Kettering Incident) with an obsessive need for attention is the subject of Briony Kidd and Claire D’Este’s (7 From Etheria) aptly titled “Watch Me” I’m not sure what is more horrifying, what may happen to her without 24/7 adulation or the lengths she goes to get it.
In Jub Clerc’s “Storytime” two children Jhi (Jhi Clarke) and Cecilia (Verna Lawson) ignore the warnings of their elders and explore a mangrove swamp said to be the lair of a monster. Clerc makes excellent use of the mangroves themselves to give this distinctly dark tale an extra layer of claustrophobia. As a result it’s Dark Whispers: Volume ‘s most frightening segment.
“The Ride” is a much less fanciful tale from Marion Pilowsky. A student (Ed Speelers, Howl, The House that Jack Built) heading back to campus takes a ride from a man (Anthony LaPaglia, Annabelle: Creation) whose racist and sexist tales are just the tip of a very dark iceberg. Scary for the exact opposite reason from the previous segment, “The Ride” is an all too real look at the kind of real monsters that are out there.
Based on Indonesian folklore, Katrina Irawati Graham’s “White Song” is the tale of a Kuntil Anak, the spirit of a woman who died while pregnant. She attaches herself to an artist grieving the loss of her husband. It feels more like a folktale than The Queen of Black Magic or anything else the combination of Indonesia and horror might bring to mind.
“Grillz” is an almost comical tale of vampires and online dating. Directed by Lucy Gouldthorpe and written by Claire D’Este who also wrote “Watch Me” it adds some needed levity to the proceedings.
Madeleine Purdy and Joel Perlgut’s “Little Sharehouse of Horrors” is a familiar tale of a woman (Georgia Wilde) who shoplifts something, in this case a plant, from the wrong store with drastic consequences for her and her roommates. It wavers between humorous takes on films like The Ruins and, of course Little Shoppe of Horrors and playing things straight.
The final tale “The Intruder” from writer/director Janine Hewitt concerns Zoe (Asher Keddie, X-Men Origins: Wolverine) who has locked herself away due to fear of a stalker (Dennis Linehan). A visit from someone out of her past (Bree Desborough, Curse of the Iron Mask) reveals the price of giving in to your fears.It’s a good finish, even if the ending is a bit obvious.
And then the wraparound reaches its conclusion.
Dark Whispers: Volume 1, despite having about twice as many stories as I would like is a very solid collection. The segments are never worse than average, which is rather unusual with a collection of this size.
They also hold together surprisingly well considering they weren’t filmed for Dark Whispers: Volume 1. They were all existing shorts brought together with the framework of the book. Several date back as far as 2005, others are as recent as 2015.
I do however think labeling Dark Whispers: Volume 1 as horror does it a disservice. There are enough segments that are good without actually being scary that the label feels almost misleading. I can also see it getting negative responses from viewers expecting a collection of nothing but scary stories.