‘From Black’ Review: An Outdated Meditation On Grief
Turning inordinate grief and trauma into horror became its own trend not too long ago, but it’s safe to say both filmmakers and audiences have, with some exceptions, cooled on this once-hot subgenre. So due to its timing, From Black, a film about a grieving mother who resorts to magic, already comes across as outdated.
Director/writer Thomas Marchese and co-writer Jessub Flower did not have to look too far for inspiration when crafting Anna Camp’s character, although they do something that helps to distinguish her from other bereaved parents in the genre. Camp plays Cora, a woman with a drug use disorder. And after several years of sobriety, Cora is given an unusual opportunity to find closure with the fact that her young son disappeared without a trace.
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As to be expected, From Black is a thoroughly heavy film. The washed-out, ashen palette and immoderately sinister score both do little to lure audiences in as they go on this ominous journey with Cora. It’s already off-puttingly bleak even before Cora meets the foreboding Abel (John Ales), a man with a dangerous offer. Something bad is in the works, but of course, Cora is unaware and lacks any sense of self-preservation. For a film that runs close to 100 minutes, the story spends relatively little time showing Cora’s resistance to such an obviously shady proposition. This shortcutting doesn’t quite align with the ultra-grim and realistic presentation.
From Black starts out like A Dark Song, where another mother is driven to desperate and supernatural acts in order to see her son again. The differences between these two films are in the execution, though. From Black tends to be less focused and intimate. For what’s supposed to be a meditation on grief, Marchese neglects to stay on the most important character here. The inverted narrative format—the film’s framing device is a fragmented police interview with her sister (Jennifer Lafleur)—keeps viewers on their toes, but it also disrupts the story’s flow.
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There is indeed a desirable air of menace in From Black, especially once a horrific demon crops up, but upon that monstrous reveal, the film runs out of gas and survives on vapors. Maybe everything manifested too soon. On the other hand, Marchese doesn’t leave the audience hanging at the end. With still a good chunk of time before the credits start to roll, the story steadily heads toward a twisted conclusion. It’s not exactly tidy, but it works for this kind of film.
From Black is behind the times, as far as horror trends go. And its own story is undercooked and unfocused. On the other hand, Anna Camp, who has largely played comedic roles in her acting career, hands in a solid performance that shows off her flair for drama. Jennifer Lafleur is underused, yet she injects some necessary life when the film feels extra dispirited. There has been a notable dip in grief-horror as of late, and perhaps that’s because audiences are worn out. From Black is also profoundly draining, and not in a great way.
From Black is profoundly draining, and not in a great way.