Adapted from the novel, Sheep by Simon Maginn (Stephen Massicotte wrote the screenplay) and directed by John Fawcett (Ginger Snaps, The Boys Club) The Dark is a capable little horror film that delivers a fair amount of ‘jumps and scares.’
The Dark can also boast a capable cast, Sean Bean (Lord of the Rings Trilogy, Ronin), Maria Bello (Payback, Secret Window), Sophie Stucky (The Woman in Black, Driving Aphrodite) and Maurice Roëves (The Damned United, Brighton Rock).
I will say that I could have done with seeing a bit more of Sean Bean and Maurice Roëves. Bean is a brilliant actor who exudes a sort of weathered charm who is, it seems, incapable of giving a poor performance no matter what film he is in. And Roëves, who appears to have been in more films than Carter has little films, is one of those ‘jobbing’ actors who has the ability to make you believe that he is the character he’s portraying.
The film opens with Adèlle (Maria Bello) and Sarah (Sophie Stucky) driving in the dark Welsh countryside. Adèlle is driving and map reading and Sarah is quiet. They are looking for husband/father James’ (Sean Bean) house and are a bit lost. They stop for the night and sleep in the car.
Upon awakening Adèlle finds that Sarah is gone from the car. Looking out her window she see’s Sarah walking around a tall, almost triangular stone near the edge of a cliff. She goes to the stone to tell Sarah it’s time to go. Sarah disappears behind the stone and when Adèlle goes around to get her, she isn’t there. As she turns in confusion to look at the car for Sarah, a white faced and scary Sarah pushes her off the cliff’s edge.
As she is pushed off the cliff Adèlle wakes up with a start, it was a dream. She looks over to see Sarah still asleep in the passenger’s seat. The car is surrounded by sheep and they find that they were near James’s house already.
They drive to the house reunite with James and meet Dafydd the ‘handy-man.’ In a very short time we, the audience, learn that Sarah and mum Adèlle have not been getting on, one repeating ‘flashback’ shows Adèlle and Sarah arguing and Sarah getting slapped by mum. We also learn that: the stone is a commemorative monument to a group of cult followers who, following their leaders teachings, jump off the cliff edge; the house was the home of the cult leader; and that there is a dark past associated with the area where James lives.
Not even one third of the way into to the film, Sarah disappears from the seaside and is presumed drowned. While James and Dafydd (Maurice Roëves) are searching for the missing Sarah with the local authorities, Adèlle (who is consumed with guilt over her fight with Sarah) concentrates on a ‘girl’ she found in the old Abattoir. The girl is Ebril and it’s not the first time that she has traded places with the living. Sarah’s ‘death’ has enabled Ebril to come back.
For all the good things about the film, the early scares and the quick build up of ominous happenings, the last quarter of the film almost ruins it’s impact.
The build up is done very well. The dream at the first of the film about the cliff’s edge, the sheep crowding Sarah to the edge of another cliff and then jumping over her to commit ‘sheep suicide’ are good signposts of what we think is going to come. But after Sarah disappears we are asked to do more than ‘suspend our disbelief.’ We are asked to buy into the films back-story and completely embrace it’s complex and fantastic myth.
Combining Stephen King’s Pet Sematary and Greek mythology the film’s back-story deals with the “swapping” of lives. The cult leader lost his daughter to the waves beneath the cliffs, known as “Annwyn” (Welsh for afterlife), and the legend is that if you get someone living to voluntarily sacrifice themselves to Annwyn then the loved one you’ve lost will be returned to you.
The cult leader talks his entire flock (except for Dafydd) into committing mass suicide and he gets his daughter, Ebril ( Abigail Stone) back. But like Pet Sematary’s returning dead, Ebril has brought something back with her that isn’t Ebril. Some dark and, presumably, evil thing. The cult leader winds up killing Ebril and it is she who took Sarah. Ebril is now back and under the guise of ‘helping’ Adèlle and James causes more problems.
Adèlle, after learning of the legend, takes Ebril to the cliff’s edge to push her off and get Sarah back. James interrupts her plan. In desperation she grabs Ebril and leaps off the cliff with her.
Sarah comes back, but, like Ebril did before, she brings something else with her and Adèlle is trapped in Annwyn.
Right up to the point where Adèlle figures out how to get Sarah back the film had me. I felt that the film was delivering a good blend of ominous and eerie forebodings. I had no trouble ‘suspending my disbelieve.’ Unfortunately the film lost me when it dove off into Welsh “mythology” and the story of Ebril.
Still despite the disappointing ending the film was good. I feel that the ‘over-all’ enjoyment factor makes up for it’s somewhat fantastical ending. Definitely worth a look and I still think there should have been more Sean Bean.
Perhaps I should have read the book first.
- Sean Bean set for ‘Devil’s Peak’ trilogy (variety.com)
- Movies rebooted and remade (toledoblade.com)
- Celebrating the Many Lives and Deaths of Sean Bean (underwordsblog.com)
- Sean Bean will not face charges over allegation he harassed his ex-wife (itv.com)
- Emmys: Maria Bello (fabsugar.com)
- Short Horror Films (mrmovietimes.com)