At a time when automation has the fate of truck drivers in limbo, A Dark Place, directed by Simon Fellows, comes along to suggest the private investigator business as an alternative career. If you don’t have any experience in criminal justice, don’t worry about it. All you have to do is get in the faces of some strangers and ask a few straightforward questions. Before long, you’ll be swimming in conspiracies, cover-ups, extramarital affairs, and all sorts of small town chicanery.
“Donald takes it upon himself to question the locals and find out what happened to the boy.”
Or so A Dark Place would have you believe. It follows Donald (Andrew Scott), a garbage truck driver who’s not the sharpest object in the euphemism. He spends his days picking up trash, taking care of his aging mother, and visiting his daughter. This modest routine is disrupted when a local boy goes missing. With motivations that aren’t immediately clear, Donald takes it upon himself to question the locals and find out what happened to the boy. If I had to guess, I’d say Donald is driven by an unadulterated sense of morality that comes as a result of his idiocy. After all, the problem with smart people is how good they are at rationalizing their weaknesses, particularly cowardice.
Once introductions are over, the movie does little to separate itself from the crowd of bargain bin whodunits. The plot moves forward, and questions are answered, but to what end? The act of presenting a problem and then solving it is worthless if there’s no emotional or intellectual context. Donald’s character is as close as the movie gets to producing such a context, but even that is tainted. Scott, channeling young, nasally Pacino, plays Donald in an appropriately pathetic way, naturally earning your sympathy without begging for it. Then, at other times, the melodrama hits the red, and everything becomes unbearably stagy.
“…channeling young, nasally Pacino, plays Donald in an appropriately pathetic way…”
With the general mediocrity out of the way, here’s a couple of grievances. There’s been talk of how cell phones have thrown a wrench into storytelling, but social media may be worse. Not only is it a lazy way to have the lead character learn valuable information, but not a single filmmaker has found a way to make browsing the internet cinematic. I’ve seen instant coffee commercials that do more to earn my attention. In the soundtrack department, the ambient, swelling synths need to go. I don’t know if it’s because they’re cheap, easy to make, or both, but they’re a blight on indie dramas everywhere.
Screenplays like A Dark Place only get made because they’re familiar. They present intrigue and drama in a way that doesn’t challenge the audience but reinforces their belief of what a movie like this should be. This conformist methodology might make the movie palatable—and marketable—but it doesn’t make it any good.
A Dark Place (2019) Directed by Simon Fellows. Written by Brendan Higgins. Starring Andrew Scott, Bronagh Waugh, Denise Gough, Michael Rose, Sandra Lafferty, Christa Campbell, Eric Mendenhall, Andrew Masset, Christian Finlayson, Kate Forbes, Jason Davis, J.D. Evermore, Becky Wahlstrom.
5 out of 10 stars