Spoiler Notice: Surprise elements of the film’s plot are discussed below
Amidst the glut of plastic-populated teen horror pics released on the back of the successful Scream franchise, John Fawcett’s first foray into the genre was a welcome entry. Mainstream horror had previously exploited a girl’s journey to womanhood, most notably by Brian de Palma, but Ginger Snaps offered something a little more challenging. The two ‘curses’ Ginger experiences gave the film a gravity – and blackly comic humour – its peers could barely compete with. Only in its final stages, when the Fitzgerald sisters battle each other, did the film falter.
Fawcett has chosen a moody chamber piece as his follow-up, with mixed results. Set in a remote part of the Welsh coast, The Dark is a heady mix of local myth, sexual betrayal, familial dysfunction and religious persecution. Fawcett and Stephen Massicotte’s adaptation of Simon Maginn’s novel weave these threads together, creating an atmosphere of unease and, in the film’s best moments, dread. When Adele’s investigation into the disappearance of her daughter draws her into the grim history of a strange cult, the environment around her becomes increasingly threatening; nowhere more so than in the desolate house her estranged artist husband, James, has moved to.
Like the recent spate of Korean and Japanese supernatural thrillers, The Dark is on safest – and most unsettling – ground when exploiting our fear of things only just out of sight. When it attempts to deal with the grief of the recently bereaved parents, it works less well. The narrative moves along too quickly and across too broad a canvas to fully realise the anguish and pain the couple are experiencing. Unlike Don’t Look Now, which studied nothing more than the effect of grief on a mature and long-standing relationship, the film merely uses Sarah’s death as a catalyst for Adele’s own passage to Annwyn, the mythic place of the dead.
Stylistically, The Dark employs three distinct palettes to separate the periods before and after Sarah’s drowning, and Adele’s own demise and journey to Annwyn. These work well, particularly in the de-saturated environs of the Welsh underworld. Some of the thrills are obvious. In particular, Brett Sullivan’s editing utilises the sound of crashing waves for shock-effect a little too frequently. The film is most successful in recreating the nightmarish world of the dead preacher, Rowan, whose scenes involving the torture of his daughter are grisly and disturbing.
The Dark remains entertaining for the most part, but like Fawcett’s previous film, it fudges its climax. The reality-within-a-reality gimmick fails to produce a satisfactory ending (it is not alone, Neil Marshall’s otherwise excellent, The Descent, also fell into this trap). By undermining the logic the writers had applied to their world, they are in danger of leaving audiences with the impression of an opportunity missed.
The Dark opens in the UK on 07/04/2006.