Written by O'Brian Gunn
Imagine being violently murdered in your own home as a child, the deed done by someone you know. You come back to un-life, but you’re now a zombie that preys on and eats the living. Now imagine a man named Josef kidnaps you as a child, tears you away from your family and renders you blind. This is the narrative framework of The Dark, a film written and directed by Justin P. Lange.
Mina is the undead girl, whose flashbacks reveal a fractured home life composed of a deadbeat mother, her abusive boyfriend, melancholy music, and visual art. After being killed and buried, Mina is revived by an unexplained force, going on to haunt the house in which she was psychologically haunted. One day, a fugitive and kidnapper on the run named Josef heads into the Devil’s Den (where Mina used to live and where she now hunts) where he’s killed by the dead girl after invading her house. After killing him, Mina discovers a young boy named Alex in the back of Josef’s car. Alex has developed a sort of Stockholm syndrome regarding Josef and persists in asking where his captor is after meeting Mina. From there, the two slowly learn more about each other as Mina helps Alex get back to safety, acting as his eyes and his guide.
The Dark isn’t an easy film to watch. I don’t say that because the movie is terrible or downright unwatchable, but because of the subject matter. Mina suffered a great deal of psychological trauma both when she was alive and the way in which she was killed, and even more while she’s undead. Alex was kidnapped and abused physically and psychologically. The movie also has plenty of gruesome deaths. To me, the movie is about being lost not only in the physical woods, but in the woods of your mind. Mina and Alex are thrust into horrible circumstances beyond their control, and they’re both abandoned by adults who have no business taking care of them, but who also provide them with a deeply twisted semblance of affection.
When I first watched this movie, I wasn’t entirely blown away by it. The script isn’t the greatest, one specific character decision didn’t ring true to me, and I would have liked a bit more explanation as to how Mina came back to “life.” It wasn’t until I watched it the second time, skipping parts I’d already latched on to, that the themes started to solidify a bit better. It’s one of those films where you blindly put the puzzle pieces together as the story moves forward. When you reach the end, you feel like you’re missing pieces; the image isn’t complete, and you aren’t sure you assembled everything the right way. It’s when you watch the film a second time that you have the box in front of you and have a better idea of how the completed puzzle is supposed to look. For some viewers, that may prove to be too frustrating and too much of an investment, and I 100% understand that.
With the recent discussions about trauma and how the body and mind respond to it, Lange gives a valiant effort at blending childhood trauma with elements of the supernatural. There have been plenty of zombie and kidnapping movies, but not all of them explore what it’s like to come back to life with the realization that you’re dead and remember how you were brutally murdered, or what it’s like to be physically scarred as a child by a kidnapper you view as a sort of parental figure. Even fewer combine the two. I feel The Dark is an atypical horror movie that focuses less on jump scares and external horror and more on the psychological horror of trauma and how it can turn the world into a type of horror movie. Or maybe I’m reading into it a bit too much.
So, did I like The Dark? I...liked the internal dialogue it sparked, which is better than a movie that instantly fizzles from memory as soon as the credits roll. It reminded me of how abuse can act as an undead zombie shambling through the halls of your life and gnawing away at your peace, or how abuse can blind us to what others see with 20/20 clarity. Maybe the true horror is realizing that there’s a version of Mina and Alex inside of us looking for a way out, a way home.
Runtime: 94 minutes
Recommend Buy New, Rent, or Skip: Rent (available for streaming on Amazon Prime, as of this review)
Up Next: Normal, by comic book writer Warren Ellis, is the story of Adam Dearden, a foresight strategist who’s paid to “gaze into the abyss” imagining various worst-case scenarios for geo engineering and smart cities. Suffering from “abyss gaze,” Adam goes to a “retreat” called Normal Head to recover. Soon after arriving, a patient disappears from his locked room, leaving behind a pile of bugs. Adam finds himself heading into the abyss of the abyss in a novella that explores “the core principles of how and why we think about the future—and the past, and the now.”