Starring Maria Bello, Sean Bean, Abigail Stone, Maurice Roëves, Sophie Stuckey
Directed by John Fawcett
Distributed by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
How far would you go to save the life of someone you love? In the case of Adelle, a woman whose teen-aged daughter has apparently drowned after being coaxed into the water by a mysterious young girl’s ghost, she’s willing to go all the way to Annwn, the Welsh equivalent of the underworld.
2005’s The Dark (not to be confused with the rather cheeseball 1979 horror/sci-fi hybrid of the same name) has quite an impressive pedigree. It is director Fawcett’s first theatrical follow-up to genre favorite Ginger Snaps, and the producers include the Resident Evil triple-threat team of Paul W.S. Anderson, Jeremy Bolt, and Robert Kulzer. The cast is first-rate, particularly Maria Bello as the distraught mother and Abigail Stone as the little dead girl who just wants a new daddy, and the Isle of Man location is both stark and stunning. Bean, who’s never looked better, also conveys a real humanity in his portrayal of a father who is in a bit over his head but nonetheless means well. Hopefully both he and Bello will soon find roles that are equal to their under-utilized abilities.
Adelle and Sarah have traveled from the US to the Welsh coast to visit Sarah’s father, James, from whom Adelle is estranged but obviously still loves. Mother and daughter are going through the typical struggles that parents and teen-agers face although a darker secret hangs over them that isn’t revealed until near the end of the film. James is an artist and sculptor who lives in a fabulous old house overlooking the ocean from atop a high cliff. He also raises sheep with the help of Dafydd, a weathered Welshman who serves as the audience’s conduit into the dark history surrounding James’ home. It seems some 50 years prior a renegade minister known as the Shepherd set up shop in the house and wound up convincing his entire congregation to leap to their deaths into the crashing waves below. Only the Shepherd, his daughter Ebrill, and one young boy too afraid to jump remained. To make the story even a bit more disturbing, James has turned the home’s abattoir (a building where the sheep were slaughtered) into his studio. Talk about a perfect situation for some spooky goings-on!
Almost immediately after Adelle and Sarah arrive, typical haunted house activities begin: A shadowy figure watches Sarah; windows open and bang against their casings for no apparent reason; and a few of the sheep get spooked, stampede Sarah, and then jump off the cliff. Okay, maybe that last part isn’t so typical, but it definitely got my attention. Some will no doubt say The Dark is derivative of both American Ring films, but I found it just different enough to be convincing, especially once the back story of the Shepherd was fully explained. If anything, I thought it was closer – in mood at least — to the original Dark Water, which also is driven by a mother’s love for her daughter and willingness to do whatever necessary to ensure her safety.
Following Sarah’s disappearance, Bean’s James recedes a bit into the background, and The Dark becomes Bello’s film. Her performance as a worried mother on the verge of losing her sanity proves what an excellent actress she has become since her brief stint on TV’s ER. In the hands of a lesser performer Adelle could easily have become shrill and unbelievable; it’s to both Bello’s and Fawcett’s credit that I had no problem whatsoever empathizing with her plight for the duration of the film. After learning of the local legend in which a husband journeys to the “other side” to retrieve his beloved dead wife Creiddylad, Adelle becomes obsessed with doing the same for Sarah; and the sepia-toned sequences in which we, the audience, travel with her to Annwn to confront those who hold her daughter captive in-between life and death are among the best I’ve seen of that type. I also felt a connection with Ebrill, who suffered terribly at the hands of her father and can’t really be blamed for her actions — or can she? Ultimately that’s for the viewer to decide.
As alluded to above, the setting of The Dark is practically another character in and of itself, and cinematographer Christian Sebaldt deserves special mention for his outstanding work on the film. The same goes for the sound crew who, after a bit of a rough start with somewhat generic jump scares, settled down for the balance of the film and gave it the subtly sinister and eerie tone it needed to be successful.
The Dark was released theatrically across Europe, but all we here in the States get is the DVD — and it’s a skimpy one at that (resulting in the loss of half a mug in its rating here). There are some previews of other Sony films, but the only real feature is an alternate ending. I definitely preferred the finale included in the film itself as the alternative was much more by the numbers and upbeat. Lord knows that to this reviewer the more downbeat an ending, the better, and The Dark delivers on that count. I really would have liked to have seen some sort of making-of featurette about both the location and Welsh mythology or at least a few interviews with the film-makers and stars, but alas, it wasn’t meant to be. I guess the story of Creiddylad wasn’t deemed important enough to American audiences to merit further elaboration.
When all is said and done, is The Dark a worthwhile addition to your DVD collection? If you’re a fan of bleak, atmospheric films, then absolutely I vote yes. If you prefer more cheery, action-oriented fare, then you’ll probably want to give it a pass. But that’s just another example of what makes our genre so interesting and inclusive. There’s something for everyone if you look hard enough. Personally, I found exactly what I was seeking in The Dark.
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