BY DEAN MOSES
To me, the horror genre is one of the greatest cinema has to offer. While on the surface horror may seem to offer cheap thrills, if you dig a little deeper you will discover revealing nuances and some in-genius metaphors. For instance, it is said that The Texas Chainsaw Massacre employed themes of veganism, Alien explored rape through its Facehuggers and Xenomorphs, and Get Out with its harrowing look at racism. Horror can have a lot of heart and thought-provoking satire nestled amidst its blood and screams. I adore the aforementioned titles and the symbolism they portray, so when director Justin P. Lange’s feature debut premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival it spoke to me in a way only dark art can.
The appropriately named The Dark opens with Josef (Karl Markovics), a wanted criminal driving through deeply forested backroads. As viewers we are aware the authorities are searching for Josef, although we don’t know the reason. His exasperated breaths and dis-jointed mutterings showcases a man on the edge, a desperate individual who seems to be searching for something, unfortunately for him he finds something, or rather someone.
After taking a side trail, we first see the house where so much bloodshed has and will be shed, its ominous jet-black shingles protruding over the tree line. This is when I started to get the sense that I was watching something special: The director gradually introduces us to this world, feeding us fleeting glimpses of the disheveled household through the branches, followed up by Josef’s slow, methodical investigation of the premises. Alongside him we come upon each room and the flaking humanity decaying there, from pealing wallpaper to a child’s ruined stuffed animal. It is clear the space once held a family that—while may not have necessarily been happy—once lived within these derelict walls before meeting a haunting end. The sense of unease grows, and, just when Josef lowers his guard, the wall begins to shake.
A hatchet-welding hooded figure emerges to bring a swift—albeit bloody—end to Josef, and thus we are introduced to Mina, an undead teen who kills anyone foolish enough to step foot in her home. Mina’s death is brought to life by actress Nadia Alexander. The character is as complex and multilayered as the scars and missing skin on her face, and Alexander throws herself full throttle into the role. We feel her anger, confusion, and sadness bleed from the screen’s pores. Due to this portrayal we know there is something more to her than just murder and—of course being a zombie—eating her kill, there is, or once was, a goodness buried beneath her corpse-like husk, which truly gets to shine when she is searching through Josef’s car and finds a young boy named Alex (Toby Nichols) hidden beneath blankets in the back of the vehicle. Instead of killing the child like she has done so many times before, she finds a kinship with him, for his eyes have been burned from his skull at the hands of his kidnapper.
The disfigurement is a spiderweb of pain that has left him completely blind, and to Mina’s eyes, vulnerable. She is no stranger to pain, to abuse, and therefore decides to do what others did not for her: offer him protection. The bond between boy and girl is wrought in blood and pain but is bound with love, showing that no matter the hard-ship love is always the more powerful emotion. And despite the murderous lengths each character goes to in order to project one another, love always wins out.
As you would imagine, a film called The Dark has a strong visual style, both with its makeup work and lighting effects. The house in which Mina resides is brimming with personality and mood, the surrounding woods gives a maze-like sense of foreboding, the gentle flickering of the light as the pair hide by the warm glow of a lighter is appealing to the eye. The gore is also represented in unrelenting fashion; from the squirt of blood to the expression of awe on the victims’ faces are both disturbing and oddly captivating.
The Dark is a horror film with a whole lot of love and heart flowing in the undercurrent of bloodletting and slaughter. With themes of child abuse, revenge, and redemption this piece has a lot to say regarding child protection and the importance of caring, providing you are willing to peer into the dark.
I attended the premiere of the film and had the opportunity to speak with the director and cast on the red carpet. It was clear they put their heart and soul into the project. Here are some of what they had to say.
Spring Creek Sun (SCS): The introduction left a lasting impres-sion on me, could you talk about it?
Director Justin P. Lange (JPL): That was a little bit of homage to Hitchcock’s Psycho. I’ve always loved his playfulness with struc-ture. In Vertigo and Psycho there are manipulations of everybody’s expectations. You’d probably noticed that with this film we play a lot with subjectivity, which is something I really like to work with. You can actually feel the shift in subjectivity to Mina. Actually, the first 15 minutes is a character introduction for Mina using Kyle. The whole film is trying to walk that line of putting us with the monster.
SCS: The house felt like a character, how did you go about making it stand out like another member of the cast?
JPL: The house was so pivotal, and it was just dumb luck that we found it. We went scouting and it wasn’t even on the list of things to look at. Then this location manager we were talking to mentioned that there was this one house we should really take a look at. The house exists as it is on camera. It’s actually on the side of another house that you don’t actually see in the film. The house was just so perfect. Although the upstairs was made in a studio, the downstairs was left filmed as is.
SCS: What drew you to the project?
Actress Nadia Alexander (NA): As soon as I read the breakdown: Mina 16, or was 16, is dead now and has this feral anger and she’s literally a monster. I think I was just so immediately drawn to that and I love playing dark roles. I love playing scary girls. That seems to be my genre.
SCS: Mina seems to be so much more than a zombie, how would you describe her?
NA: It’s hard for me to describe it. Mina is a zombie but she’s a smart zombie. I’ve started describing her as undead on the outside, but she’s still alive on the inside. She’s still cognizant of what she is doing unlike the way zombies usually are.
Photos by Dean Moses