Directed by Suri Krishnamma
Jim Tahna (Cudlitz) is a night-shift security guard who is also a “Grief Tourist” (or, going by the film’s new title, a “Dark Tourist”) — someone who finds a hobby in travelling to visit the scenes of human tragedy, death and disaster. Once a year, he sets off on his holidays to a different location marked by human suffering, an interest he shares with workmate Janita.
This year, Jim is off to California to visit the crime scenes of arsonist and murderer Carl Marznap. Along the way the uncomfortably withdrawn Jim picks up a friendship with local waitress Betsy (Griffith), and a burgeoning relationship begins to form that may just provide a ray of light into his otherwise solemn, distanced existence. With his motel room stationed next to that of a working prostitute, the intrusion of sound and general malcontent gradually peels back the veneer of Jim’s personality, revealing a pitch-black centre implanted by childhood trauma. When he begins to see and converse with the long-dead Marznap (an unsettling performance by Pruitt Taylor Vince), Jim slowly struggles to stay on the right side of sanity.
And the word “slowly” barely begins to describe it. Dark Tourist is a film determined to drown the audience in bleakness in its search for profundity, as if constantly dark, depressing visuals, drawn out scenes and gravelly, noir-esque voiceover are the key elements to truly getting under the skin and penetrating the psyche. Unfortunately for director Krishnamma that’s certainly not the case and the distressingly plodding pace of the entire affair sees it drag at almost a complete standstill for the vast majority of the runtime. The script reluctantly keeps its cards close to its chest until the revelatory ending, but in doing so leaves very little to actually explore during what precedes it — a factor compensated for by the consistently slovenly pacing. More surprising, though, is that despite this incessant dragging out, many key elements find themselves added in a slapdash manner during the closing expository rush, leaving Jim’s motivations and history only slightly more clarified than they were in the beginning.
It’s a shame, then, that this inaccessibility also happens to be the vehicle for some powerful performances from leads Cudlitz and Griffith, the former in particular simultaneously juggling with a palpable sense of the outsider, stonewalled meekness, and coiled-spring violent rage just waiting to erupt at any moment. Neither can be faulted for their challenging turns as two people with histories of victimisation seeking solace and personal redemption via connection with each other.
Towards the latter end of the story, Dark Tourist adopts a somewhat more seedy and gratuitous tone, even if the requisite violence is high on impact and hugely successful in its efforts to disturb. Krishnamma attempts on occasion to evoke elements of the likes of Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, showcasing a desire to construct a truly affecting journey into a crumbling mind, but instead remains lost in labyrinthine passages of babble. What should be a deep and wounding trip to the edge of sanity remains far too understated and impenetrable for its own good.
1 1/2 out of 5