Written by Elias (“Gut”) and directed by Nick Basile (the documentary “American Carny”), this psychological thriller finds a prematurely washed-up model battling some pretty formidable inner demons during the widespread 2003 NYC blackout. I stress inner.
“Dark” is kind of a nasty movie, but never as overtly as one might predict from the steamy opening sequence. Kate (Whitney Able of “Monsters”) sleepwalks through life, barely mustering a smile as she teaches a yoga class and turns down coffee with a walking Birkenstock endorsement. Her photographer girlfriend Leah (“The Walking Dead” star Alexandra Breckenridge) is about to go away for a few days, voicing concern over the state of their relationship. Sullen and distant Kate opts to stay home in their small Brooklyn studio apartment.
It was a terrifying day for New Yorkers—I have a friend who was stuck on the train for hours before being able to hoof it back to Brooklyn. It’s an event that I’m sure provided innumerable real-life horror stories, one that “Dark” seems reluctant to become.
Basile’s film seems to be of deeper ambition, and though well-shot, delivers little on a story level. For Kate, the blackout is a metaphorical extension of her every day mental state (or so it would seem) that’s never particularly scary for the audience. The scars on her wrists and some flickers of exposition suggest that Leah saved her life at some point, despite which Kate remains virtually dead to the world, and to us. That backstory might have made for a pretty good drama.
The film is most notable for its EP Joe Dante who directed modern classics like “The Howling” and “Gremlins”, and despite the title spends much of its time in the daylight. It recalls the blistering August heat and uncertainty of the situation’s scope quite well. Paranoia comes knocking in the form of Kate’s bumbling neighbor John (Brendan Sexton III, “The Killing”). He fears that it might be another terrorist attack, understandable with 9/11 still in the rearview. Then he extends a painfully awkward invite to the corner bar for margaritas. She declines, slightly amused by his meek disposition. Dorky guy #2, down. This is as close as the movie will get to comic relief on purpose.
A more dangerous suitor awaits when the sun finally sets, and Kate finds her way to a local club (Redman makes a cameo as a friendly doorman). She’s approached by Benoit (Michael Eklund, “The Divide”, “The Call”), an immensely creepy character with a serial killer beard and that subtle lip twitch that says: I really want to buy this chick a drink, but is there room for another head in the ice box?.
One way or another, Benoit (pronounced Ben-wa), who also goes by Benny, seems to sympathize with Kate’s plight. Some cryptic conversation and several snifters of single malt gets him an invite back to her place. But he’s uncommonly polite, and instead offers just to walk her to her door. Major red flag! Something awful is about to happen.
It’s certainly a showcase of Able’s abilities as an actor (for the most part, it’s a one woman show; her commitment to the role proves an unwavering balance between Jennifer Jason Leigh and Sheri Moon Zombie), but “Dark” could’ve used a liberal trimming. From a concept by Elias and director Basile, the screenplay takes a while to get cooking, eventually leaving a well-developed character in a movie that comes up short on ideas (in this genre, it’s usually it’s the other way around). Instead of cashing in on the mounting tension in the final act (not unlike the Elias-produced “Phobia”), the suspense dissipates, and the film becomes an exercise in tedium with a meager reward.
Great camerawork from DP Trent Ermes, with some old school zooms and a few great panning shots, give the film an unsettling atmosphere. But that only goes so far when things get monotonous. I think “Dark” would have been much more effective as a short film.
Available on VOD June 7th.