The Dark (2005) / Horror-Thriller
MPAA Rated: R for violence, disturbing images, and language
Running Time: 90 min.
Cast: Maria Bello, Sean Bean, Sophie Stuckey, Abigail Stone, Maurice Roeves, Richard Elfyn
Director: John Fawcett
Screenplay: Stephen Massicotte (based on the novel, "Sheep", by Simon Maginn
Review published February 26, 2006
John Fawcett's first feature film since 2000's cult classic (although I didn't particularly care for it), Ginger Snaps, sees him returning back to the horror genre, but with mixed results. His direction is solid, and the acting quite good, but the issue with The Dark that keeps it from being a good film lies with the story itself. Very loosely based on the Simon Maginn's novel, "Sheep", Stephen Massicotte's adaptation (Massicotte coincidentally wrote the third film in the Ginger Snaps series, Ginger Snaps Back) packages this thriller into yet another child-possession neo-horror chillers very derivative of so many other films that have been released in Hollywood for the last several years, and in Asia several years before that. From The Ring to Hide and Seek to Dark Water, The Dark plays like a mish-mash of what has become standard horror fare, never really giving us the surprises or good scares required to be worthwhile.
Maria Bello (A History of Violence, Assault on Precinct 13) plays Adele, who travels with her precocious young daughter Sarah (Stuckey) to visit Sarah's father, James (Bean, National Treasure), in his cliff-side home by the ocean in Wales. Adele and Sarah haven't exactly been getting along lately, but it all becomes a moot issue when Sarah is lost while exploring the ocean at the foot of the cliffs, and despite an exhaustive search for her body, nothing appears to turn up. Well, nothing except another girl of the same age named Ebrill (Stone), whom Adele believes is the reincarnation of a young girl killed decades before, who may hold the key to Sarah's whereabouts, as well as the way for her to return.
Bello's performance and solid cinematography from Christian Sebaldt (Resident Evil: Apocalypse, Feardotcom) are about the best features in this routine outing, and unfortunately, they aren't enough to elevate it into anything of great substance. There are moments of interest, yet none of them pan out into generating enough of a mystery to really kick things into an absorbing ride. Like many of today's horror excursions, The Dark is all about the atmosphere and little else, with plenty of false scares that try to deceive you from the real ones that eventually occur, although at no time does it ever seem scary enough to merit such jolts.
Despite its flaws, there is a period late into the film where Bello's character commits an act of desperation in order to try to get her daughter back, finally engaging any in the audience that haven't yet given up hope with something to finally be fascinated about. Sadly, Fawcett's delivery here only succeeds in muddling up an already muddled movie, then adding insult to injury with an unsatisfying ending (I've read accounts of two different endings existing, depending on the country of release).
Fans of Bello should admire her work here, and it may provide some interest for viewers that haven't been overexposed to most of the atmospheric horror-thrillers of recent years, but really, if you've seen one, you really have seen them all.
©2006 Vince Leo