Description (from IMDb):
A disturbed young woman must confront her worst fears when she finds herself trapped alone in a New York City loft during the 2003 blackout.
As the credits to DARK rolled, I thought to myself “this is going to be one of those love it or hate it kind of movies for most people.” When I was looking up the links for IMDb as I prepared to write this review, I found that I was right! There are a few user reviews that LOVE this movie and a few that HATE it, and as of today 22% of the star ratings are a 10 while 19% are a 1 (and only 3% are in the middle, a 5…). So I’d say love it or hate it. I personally didn’t really go either way.
DARK is the story of a woman, Kate, who is going through some confusing times. She used to be a model, now she’s a yoga instructor dating a photographer (and the first yoga instructor I’ve seen that smokes, but I don’t claim to be an expert in the field…) and having tough times in her relationship. She and her girlfriend, Leah, aren’t seeing eye to eye, and on the night that would end up being the big NYC blackout Leah takes off. Kate goes out to sow her wild oats and meets up with Benoit at a bar and things get steamy. That is the basic, spoiler free, description of the plot. Of course, as the night goes on, the dark in DARK starts to affect Kate more and more, and the story starts to twist.
I will start with what I liked about DARK. First, this is a very professional film. I review a lot of low-budget and no-budget films that are obviously lacking in cash; this is not one of them. IMDb lists the estimated budget at $400k (and on Kickstarter DARK pulled in a little over $50k), which for a “Hollywood” movie would squarely fall in the “your budget is how much??!?! BWAHAHAHAHAHA!!!” category, and for the movies that I review it is in the mid to higher range. Looking at DARK, there is nothing to indicate that this was not made in Hollywood. The video is beautifully HD, the sound is 5.1 surround and really well recorded in both the dialogue and foley aspects, and production-wise there is nothing to show off the budget.
The production’s quality is matched by the talent on screen, as Whitney Able (who, my GOD, looks a lot like a young Jennifer Jason Leigh) carries the film effortlessly on her shoulders. Actually, there are good performances all around, and this is a testament to the directing talent of Basile, here directing his first narrative feature. The cinematography by Trent Ermes (of Elias’ last feature, GUT, reviewed here) works to beautifully capture the performances that Basile has massaged on screen. The lighting and composition are great throughout DARK, even in the dark!
Ok, so now onto the flip side of the coin. I think first off that the “advertising” per se for DARK is not working in its favor. The poster for DARK, the blurb on IMDb, and the more detailed description on DARK’s own webpage all lead me as the viewer to believe that this is going to be a very suspenseful film, and maybe even a horror; as the viewer I did not find that to be the case. I am all for slow-burn horror – one of my favorite more recent examples being Ti West’s THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL – but I need a payoff. I need a little notion in the beginning that tells me “hold on, it’s coming,” and then I need that last act of the film to be worth sitting through the slow build up of the first two. DARK did not give me that payoff. More than anything, as I got to the last act, I felt more confused than in suspense. Maybe I just missed it, maybe it went over my head, and maybe that’s where all these people that gave it a 1 on IMDb lost it too, but it just did not pay off for me. Yes, things happen during the end, and yes, there is some suspense, but it just didn’t do it for me.
In addition, as I mentioned before, I found quite a few aspects of the film to be confusing. From motivations (why does Kate go out in the dark hallway?) to characters (is the neighbor drunk or a stalker, he doesn’t seem threatening enough to be scary but I think he was supposed to be) to plot points (where the hell did Benoit go? He shows up in the apartment never to be seen again), there was a lot going on that made me go “hmmm.” For 1990’s one hit wonders that might be a good a good thing, but for someone watching DARK I don’t think it bodes well. It’s not even as if this was a Lynch film where things are really confusing the first viewing either, it’s not the Mystery Man telling our main character to call him at his own house, it’s more like plot holes and what feels like missing scenes. If DARK was intended this way, I didn’t pick up on that at all.
Overall, there were a lot of good things, and not so good things, going on with DARK. It’s pretty, well-acted, shot interestingly, and looks like millions of bucks. However, looking good was not enough to make up for the fact that it felt like a long, slow road to nowhere. I see major talent in Basile and Elias, and I wholeheartedly look forward to seeing whatever they do next, but DARK just wasn’t the film I was hoping it would be. Maybe in a year or two I’ll revisit the film and feel completely differently about it. You might feel completely differently about it right now… it seems to have that effect on people!
Overall 5 / 10
DARK on the IMDb: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2226321/
DARK is not for sale yet, but has been picked up for distribution through Screen Media
DARK site: http://www.darkthefilm.com/