The Dark Review
Under a steel-grey sky, heavy with the threat of rain, Adelle (Maria Bello) arrives on the Welsh coast with her troubled daughter Sarah (Sophie Stuckey) looking for James (Sean Bean), Sarah's father and Adelle's estranged husband. However, as the sun sets, finding his farmhouse proves difficult and eventually the two settle down in the front seats of their car for the night. In the morning, Adelle wakes with her daughter still beside her, their car stuck in the mud and a large stone pillar a short distance from their car that overlooks the sea. Walking down the hill, they see James' house and, for a few days at least, happily live as one might expect a family to with Sarah exploring the farm buildings and the land around the beach.
But as those days pass, Sarah and Adelle discover that James' house as a history but one that the locals, including handyman Dafydd (Maurice Roëves), refuse to talk about. A jewellery box is found, then another box full of keys and there are odd tools and markings on the walls of one of the outbuildings. Then, a day later when Adelle and Sarah are at the beach, a wave washes the young girl out to sea, where her body is lost beneath the freezing waters of the Irish Sea. Distraught when the search for Sarah is called off, they're confused when another young girl, Ebrill (Abigail Stone), visits them, who bears a remarkable similarity to Sarah. But Ebrill claims to have been part of a cult who committed mass suicide fifty years before at the same place where Sarah disappeared. Claiming that the drowning of one of the living will bring another back from the dead, does the return of Ebrill open away to bring Sarah back? And what will return if Adelle and James manage to do so?
To quote Oscar Wilde, or thereabouts, to lose one daughter may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose another looks like carelessness. Following on from the recent Silent Hill, in which Sean Bean lost both his daughter and his wife to the horrors of the titular town, The Dark has him play artist James, who's moved from New York, or so it is implied, to the rugged Welsh coast. There he buys a farmhouse in which to inspire his art but it hides as many dreadful secrets as did Silent Hill, including a suicidal cult, mass murder, child abuse, trepanning and the afterlife, which is a good deal more horrific than is suggested by the word. With the waves battering the coast, the conspiratorial mutterings and the thick accents of the locals reminding one of The Wicker Man, The Dark has a good pedigree and will certainly appeal to anyone who likes their horrors occurring in locations less typical than American suburbia and Texan backwaters.
All of this is a rather effective premise for a horror film. It's difficult to deny the thrills that are suggested by a religious cult and the Welsh coast is a unique and novel location for a horror film, as well as being one that's very effective, but The Dark is often spoiled by the odd turns that it takes in its plotting. James and Adelle, for example, welcome Ebrill into their home with a suddenness that is at odds with how they only lost their daughter days earlier, particularly in the manner in which James suggests to Adelle that they keep her as a replacement to Sarah. Then there's the manner in which The Dark takes a very literal approach to keeping a very local cast, revealing that one of the few characters we meet played a central role in the suicide cult fifty years earlier, including what made Ebrill such a sinister figure. Finally, there's the wretched use of sheep as being part of The Dark's coterie of scares, which will be cliched to anyone tired of gags involving sheep and the Welsh and risible to anyone else.
It does, though, become a much better film in the days after watching it, when the ending, which is a little confusing on first watching it, begins to make some sense. Without giving it away, the audience gets a glimpse of what happens after death as well as the actual horrors of the cult at the centre of the story. More muted than the Other Place in Silent Hill, its lack of sensationalism works to its advantage with the last shot in the film being more unsettling than any other. However, that does feel too little too late, too little to have any immediate impact but interesting in that it lingers where a more obvious one would not. That ending might well be its finest moment but it's clear that had the film not set it up as well as it did, it would be much less interesting.
Given the title of the film, you can assume The Dark will be a fairly gloomy experience but it's one that the DVD largely copes with. There's some noise in the image and there's a certain softness to the backgrounds but it doesn't look at all bad. Unfortunately, detail does get lost in the darkness but it doesn't do anything to affect one's enjoyment of the film, which is due to the very good DD5.1 audio track. Making excellent use of the rear speakers, The Dark sounds great, with ghostly murmurings and the sound of instruments of torture appearing throughout the film, which have much more impact than the slightly disappointing visuals.
As well as a Trailer, there's a fairly complete set of Interviews with the cast and crew. As well as actors Sean Bean, Maria Bello, Maurice Roëves, Abigail Stone and Sophie Stuckey, there are also short interviews with director John Fawcett, producer Jeremy Bolt, writer Stephen Massicotte, DoP Christian Sebaldt and Stunt Co-ordinator Gareth Milne. None of them are particularly interesting and most of them aren't very long but they do offer a glimpse at the background of the film, the making of it and how it has been received by the cast.
However, the best bonus feature is a Revised Ending that is different but no less effective than the one in the final edit of The Dark. Less grim and something of a happier ending, albeit one that's still very bleak, The Dark would have worked just as well had this been included, leaving it interesting to see a different interpretation of the film.
If you enjoyed Silent Hill, there's a very good chance that The Dark will also be appreciated given the similarities between the two films, even to their endings, which will, in some audiences, raise more questions than they will provide answers. However, it's not a very frightening film, which is fatal for a horror film, and neither is it a big film, indicative of how it went straight to video/DVD in North America. Here, perhaps because of its setting, it enjoyed a short theatrical run but even on DVD, it lacks scope. Whilst it might well offer some enjoyable midweek thrills had it been produced by and shown on the BBC, as a feature it has limited ambition, which, for all its ideas, is its eventual undoing.