Within the woods, there is a place called Devil’s Den, known for being some kind of haunted area where bad things happen. Within Devil’s Den, there is a house. Within the house, there is a monster. That monster is called Mina, and she is a monster through her actions. She is a young, seemingly undead girl who kills all that come near her house. In true undead fashion, she eats her prey.  One of her latest is a boy about her (natural) age, who is both physically and emotionally damaged. She hesitates to kill him and the two will form some kind of connection, though that won’t stop the carnage from stopping around them.

A horror fable taking place in a horrifyingly real world, with both unexplained supernatural elements and unrevealed human atrocities, this is an unconventional story; though built from pieces that are familiar from the horror genre. Its tone is serious, slow, and allegorical.

The main focus is the relationship between Mina and the boy, Alex, and the effect this will have on both of them. Gradually, we are shown what has made Mina into the monster she has become, and we are told certain aspects of what has made Alex how he is. Essentially, this is a story of the repercussions of child abuse, and how it can breed monsters. Our main characters are both catastrophically damaged. As mentioned and evident, it’s made Mina into a predator herself. Alex is a victim when we meet him, but his predatory side manifests as he gets closer to Mina.

The direction by Justin P. Lange is assured and deliberate. The focus is on the characters, and the mood comes from the pauses, and the space. I don’t actually remember much music in the film. I mentioned that it was slow, but not in a boring sense. The pace builds tension in some cases, and asks us to spend more time with the characters. This is where my personal gripe with the film comes in: that no matter how much the film can want me to, the acts perpetrated by Mina (and Alex, in one instance) make it impossible to truly feel any empathy.

When I mention that Mina is a monster, it’s because she does what monsters, as antagonists in stories, do: she kills. And she kills indiscriminately, sometimes cruelly. That it comes from a place of abuse and neglect doesn’t change the actions. Her relationship with Alex is shown to possibly be her road to redemption, and his to salvation. But what about all the unfortunate victims that cross their path?

Yeah, alright, it’s a horror film. One where the main protagonist is also the antagonist. The problem I have with this premise is that at a certain point I just won’t care, because there’s no-one for me to care about.  That can be fine, unless the film actually wants me to; and in the way The Dark tells its story, it kinda does.

I like the subtext of the film (we create our own monsters), and it is very well done. The two leads, Nadia Alexander (Mina) and Toby Nichols (Alex), are fantastic. The Dark bears its title well with its subject, story, characters, and overall emotionally harsh situations. Strangely enough, it isn’t unbearably oppressive, even with the running theme of one of the worst horrors of all: child abuse. But that’s mainly due to the worst aspects of it being mostly left in the dark.

Speaking of, unlike what one might expect from a horror film with that title, most of the film takes place during the day. And outside. Not sure if that was a sly, deliberate decision. All the darkness present here is in the human heart.

 

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