From a Place of Darkness (2008)
Reviewed by Morgan Elektra
Starring Travis Schuldt, John Savage, Bronson Pinchot, Conor Duffy, Natalie Zea, Carmen Palumbo
Directed by Douglas A. Raine
Distributed by Celebrity Video Distribution
According to the all-knowing interwebs, a snuff film is defined as a film depicting the murder of a human being without the aid of special effects and circulated for the purpose of entertainment. While no one has ever proved the existence of an honest-to-god snuff film, they are the subject of much intrigue and speculation.
Miles (Travis Shuldt) is a filmmaker with a fascination with the subject. He is filming a documentary about it and has found a gold mine of information in the form of snuff filmmaker Vic (The Deer Hunter’s amazing John Savage). Vic has agreed to let Miles interview him in the abandoned warehouse where he filmed some of his movies, which Miles is using as his production office. Vic’s a real nice guy for a murdering low-life. He even lets Miles watch some of his footage.
Miles’ brother and business partner Sean (Duffy) ropes in an investor (Bronson Pinchot’s Carl), and Miles’ girlfriend Brenda (Zea) worries that Miles is in over his head, while Miles himself becomes more and more obsessed with Vic and his victims. Slowly he comes to believe the warehouse is haunted by the ghosts of the people Vic killed there.
There is a lot to love about From a Place of Darkness. For one, the acting is all top-notch. Savage is always amazing, and he sells Vic’s careless coldness and creepy charm with perfection. The entire rest of the cast, without exception, all turn in excellent performances as well. Special mention must be made of the lovely Carmen Palumbo, who plays Jacqui, one of Vic’s starlets. Not only is she gorgeous and seductive, but her death throes are incredibly believable and unsettling. Those of you who, like me, know Schuldt from his role as Elliott’s slightly goofy and submissive love interest Keith on Scrubs might have some initial trouble seeing him as a filmmaker slowly descending into the deep darkness of his soul, but Schuldt makes Miles both likeable and believable.
From a Place of Darkness looks fantastic, too. Director of photography Hugh Johnson has worked on well known films GI Jane and The Chronicles of Riddick. While I don’t remember being struck overmuch by the cinematography of either film, I do remember them both being decent looking films. Perhaps it was pairing with Raine for this film that elevated the look. Though Raine has worked as both first and second assistant director on films such as The Ghost and The Darkness and Men of Honor, and a producer on the often underappreciated (and really wonderful, I think) Reign of Fire, this is his first foray into the world of being a writer/director. It is very clear that he is a strong and visionary director.
If there is a weakness to the film though, and there is, it’s the script penned by Raine and newcomer Scott Kenyon Barker. I enjoyed the concept of the filmmaker losing himself in his subject to the point of becoming haunted by it; however, as the film progressed, it felt like Raine and Barker tried to add another layer to the storyline that just ended up muddling the narrative. What should be simple and compelling becomes convoluted and confusing. Instead of feeling wowed at the end, which I had been up until the last twenty or so minutes, I was left feeling kind of "eh". In retrospect, I wasn’t sure how the ending fit into everything that had come before it and felt it cheapened the experience somewhat. I am perhaps being overly harsh, but it seemed to come across as trying to be an overly clever "twist" ending, and I’m getting kind of tired of those. If you like those kind of "What just happened?" endings, then you might not mind as much as I did.
Had the script been a little stronger and more focused, this would have been an instant favorite. However, even the weaker and overly contrived ending can’t totally sink the solid and thoroughly enjoyable film that leads up to it. The majority of From a Place of Darkness is moody, disquieting, intense and undeniably entertaining. It’s definitely worth the watch… and who knows? You might even enjoy the ending.
4 out 5
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