A disappointment. This 2004 film is plenty weird, yes, and fairly
well made, but also clumsy and misconceived.
THE DARK was purportedly based on the novel SHEEP by
Simon Maginn, but, speaking as one
who’s read it, I found very little
evidence of that outside the Welsh setting and the presence of sheep. A
far greater influence appears to be Nicolas Roeg’s classic film DON’T
LOOK NOW, which focused on a grief-stricken couple dealing with the
death of a child.
THE DARK was the third feature directed by Canada’s
John Fawcett, following THE BOYS CLUB (1997) and the wildly popular
GINGER SNAPS (2000). He attracted some strong talent for THE DARK,
including Maria Bello (A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE, DOWNLOADING SARAH) and
Sean Bean (THE LORD OF THE RINGS, NATIONAL TEASURE). Interestingly
enough, filmmaker Paul W.S. Anderson is listed as co-producer; P.W.S.
Anderson (not to be confused with Paul Thomas Anderson or Wes Anderson)
is of course best known as the helmer of trashy flicks like MORTAL
COMBAT, RESIDENT EVIL and ALIEN VS. PREDATOR, and I don’t know the
extent of his involvement on THE DARK.
Adele and her young daughter Sarah arrive at the Welsh
cliff-side home of Adele’s husband James. The middle aged Dafydd, who
lives nearby, tells Adele about an eccentric family who previously lived
in James’ house, and who practiced an odd religion inspired by
pre-Christian Welsh folklore, notably the concept of “Annwn,” a dark
realm where the dead reside.
The following day Sarah abruptly disappears while
frolicking on the rocks below the house, having presumably been swept
away by the sea. Adele and James scour the area but find no trace of
That night Adele spots a girl outside the house and,
believing it to be Sarah, follows her into the local abattoir. The girl
is Ebrill, the daughter of a deceased shepherd. Ebrill actually died
years earlier, having been killed in a bizarre religious ceremony…only
to be subsequently brought back to life. Dafydd, a boy at the time,
killed her again, only to have her return to life one more time.
Ebrill steadfastly claims to know where Sarah is. Adele
and James allow Ebrill to stay in their house, just as Adele hears Sarah
calling to her and finds the girl’s sweater stuck in a wall. Eventually
Adele concludes that Sarah is trapped in Annwn, and so jumps into the
sea and enters Annwn herself…
The script for THE DARK is a bit of a mess, juggling
realty-based drama and hallucinatory horror in singularly clumsy
fashion, but John Fawcett’s skilled and confident direction makes it
work…almost. The filmmaking has a gritty immediacy that, coupled with
the scenic Welsh locales, compels attention. The photography is quite
fine and the lead performance of Maria Bello fairly strong (although
it’s never explained why she’s the only person in the film who doesn’t
have an English accent).
Outside the clunkiness of the narrative, the film
suffers from repetitiveness: there are only so many times the filmmakers
can repeat shots of the heroine searching her basement with a flashlight
or wandering dangerously close to a cliff edge. The final trip into
Annwn is also a disappointment, rendering the ages-old land of the dead
as, essentially, a low rent variant on the look of SILENT HILL (2006),
complete with jittery music video-esque editing.
As for the multi-twist ending, it’s unexpected and
intriguing, but also, in keeping with the rest of the film, excessively
scatterbrained and misconceived, bringing up far more questions than it
answers--and no, the alternate ending contained on the DVD doesn’t help
matters at all.
Constantin Film/Impact Pictures
Director: John Fawcett
Producers: Jeremy Bolt, Paul W.S. Anderson
Screenplay: Stephen Massicotte
(Based on SHEEP by Simon Maginn)
Cinematography: Christian Sebaldt
Editing: Chris Gill
Cast: Maria Bello, Sean Bean, Maurice Roeves, Sophie Stuckey, Abigail
Stone, Richard Elfyn, Casper Harvey, Eluned Jones, Gwenyth Petty, Robin
Griffith, Mike Keegan, Tonya Smith