Dark Remains (2005)

Starring Cheri Christian, Greg Thompson, Scott Hodges, Jeff Evans

Directed by Brian Avenet-Bradley

I’ve been following the steady progression of Avenet-Bradley’s career since its very early days, when he did a film with a friend of mine down in Georgia called Freez’er. Many years later that film was put out on DVD by the good folks at Heretic Films under the title Cold Blood. Between the completion of the film and its release on DVD, he came up with another creepy indie horror film called Ghost of the Needle. Now he’s back on the scene with Dark Remains, which is probably his most complex work to date — certainly one of the creepiest.

One night, shortly after tucking in their little girl, Julie (Christian) and Allen (Thompson) go to bed together and everything in their lives seems normal; the kind of setup in which you just know something bad is going to happen. Sure enough, Julie hears a sound that wakes her up, and she goes to investigate. She finds the front door partially open and begins to become very concerned. Her absolute worst fears are made real when she checks on daughter and finds her brutally murdered in her bed.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it now; when you start off a film or a book killing a kid, you’re setting yourself up as a director or author who is willing to go places most won’t even conceive of. There is a line, I believe, and if you cross it early on you had better be able to throw things at the audience that they don’t expect, go places they wouldn’t figure you’d go. The main issue I had with Dark Remains is that Avenet-Bradley doesn’t seem to want to go to those places at first, and when he does it’s almost too late.

But I digress. We cut to what we can assume is a few months later. Julie and Allen decide to rent a cabin on a mountain in Georgia to get away from their memories for a while and try to be a couple again. At first, Allen’s intentions seem good; he wants his wife to get out and start taking pictures again to help her keep her mind off things. She finds an abandoned prison nearby their cabin and finally sees the perfect opportunity to re-ignite her passion for photography, as the prison is disused and filled with all sorts of creepy stuff. For obvious reasons she’s not in the sunniest state of mind so it suits her well.

When she starts developing the pictures, things get very strange indeed. Where she shot images of empty corners and neglected bathtubs, those same photographs when developed now include the body of a murder victim, and apparently she’s the only one that can see it. Meanwhile, Allen has gotten word that the last people to have rented the cabin killed themselves and decides now’s a good time to get some more history on the place. Too bad he didn’t do that before they rented it, you know?

Julie becomes more and more obsessed with her photographs, as well as the strange voices she keeps hearing. Allen’s learning more and more about the place they’re living in, and just how unbalanced some of his neighbors really are. And through it all, creepy ghosts keep popping up at the most inopportune times, though it seems no one can see them if they have any shred of sanity.

The real story behind what’s going on is revealed just a bit too late for anyone to be able to benefit from it, and the ending is suitably bleak, which is always a plus for creepy horror films. Avenet-Bradley’s definitely been improving his skills over the years, and Dark Remains is a testament to how far he’s come as a filmmaker. He chooses not to stoop to the level of the cheap scare as so many other directors tend to do (though he does use music cues a lot to let you know when you’re supposed to be scared), and it’s refreshing to see an indie movie that isn’t trying to mirror the quick-cutting Hollywood horror films. But then that’s a trap Avenet-Bradley’s never fallen into over the course of his three films.

That said, the limits to which he’s willing to go seem to be constricted. Eventually the horror becomes more and more mean-spirited and unpredictable, and really by the end there’s not a character that I felt sympathetic towards, but it almost takes too long to get there for my tastes, especially when you consider the shocking tone it started off with.

My other concern was the acting, which always seems to be touch and go with Brian’s movies. The lead characters are all right, though the delivery is sometimes all over the place, but some of the secondary characters are just plain bad. It’s distracting, especially when they’re put into scenes with those who can act well, but by now it’s something I almost expect from indie films, no mater who they come from. I will give credit to Scott Hodges, who plays the slightly disturbed neighbor Jim. He’s assigned a very difficult role to play and pulls it off with a gusto and determination that shows he really got what was happening to the man he was portraying on screen.

The music and cinematography are good, as is always the case with Brian’s movies, and if nothing else the camera work is a lot more dynamic than it was in previous films. Laurence Avenet-Bradley (the director’s wife) has been improving right alongside her husband and does a specifically commendable job in Dark Remains with the inclusions of strange things happening just on the edges of the frame. Occasionally this works was a “did I just see that?” sort of moment, which is the kind of creepy I really dig.

All in all, Dark Remains is a very solid ghost story with enough attention to detail and characterization to set it aside from its contemporaries. Brian Avenent-Bradley’s going strong and continues to show promise as both a screenwriter and director, and hopefully this will be the film that gets him noticed by people with the right amount of money to help him do it even better.

3 ½ out of 5

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Johnny Butane

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