Dir: John Fawcett. UK.2005. 92mins
A promising supernaturalthriller never quite comes to the boil in The Dark. The latest featurefrom Ginger Snaps director John Fawcett blends together the intriguingingredients of a pagan religion, a remote coastal location, the power of amother's love and the scorn of an injured child but it is ultimately tooconvoluted and frustrating for its own good. Genre fans who gave modest supportto Dark Water and The Skeleton Key will provide the core audiencefor a film that has little chance to break-out to a wider constituency.
Currently enjoying a strongrun of roles in The Cooler, Silver City and A History OfViolence, Maria Bello stars as New Yorker Adele. Ashamed of the way she hastreated her daughter Sarah (Stuckey), she accompanies her on a visit to thegirl's father James (Bean). He now lives in a remote farm on the Welsh coast.
Fifty years ago, the areawas home to a strange religious sect that ended in a mass clifftop suicide.When Sarah disappears and is believed to have drowned, Adele remains certainthat she is still alive. Investigating the events of the past gives her aninsight into what is required of her if her daughter is to return.
Fawcett managed to injectfresh blood into the werewolf story in Ginger Snaps by placing the focuson a teenage girl and her burgeoning sexuality.
There is a similar althoughless successful attempt to do something different here. The emphasis is onatmosphere rather than gore and the main interest is in what the film revealsabout the strained relationship between the mother and daughter rather than anyshock revelations about events in the 1950s.
The film also betrays theinfluence of recent Asian chillers like The Ring and Dark Waterin its use of ghostly, menacing figures and fascination with child abuse andfractured family relationships. There is also more than a hint of The WickerMan in the isolated setting, local customs, a flock of decidedly sinistersheep who later prove lethal and the presence of an enigmatic resident whoknows more than he is letting on, a part fulfilled here by Maurice Roeves ashandyman Dafydd.
The influences may be ofinterest to genre fans but the storyline doesn't have the clarity nor emotionalintensity that captures the general viewer and the end seems especially lame.
The glow of a coal fire orthe piercing beam of a torch provide the kind of lighting choices that lend thetale a wintry darkness and Fawcett creates a saturated, almost monochrome otherworld as Adele goes to battle for her child's future.
Struggling through storms,crashing waves and other hardships, Bello is up to the physical challenges ofthe role and makes the angry, guilt-ridden mother far from saintly asflashbacks provide glimpses of insight into what has led to the deteriorationof relations with her daughter.
It is refreshing to see Beanplay something other than the bad guy but he is very much the supporting figureas the father that Sarah turns to for love and reassurance.
Paul W S Anderson
based on the novel Sheep by Simon Maginn