Actress Cybil Lake makes her acting, writing, and directorial feature-length movie debut with Central Park Dark (she was on a handful of shows before this). Taking cues from the likes of Adrian Lyne and John Dahl (before Rounders), though adding a bit of mysticism, the sexual thriller is undoubtedly ambitious. Can the first-time filmmaker overcome budgetary limitations to show a proper understanding of cinema? That answer is yes and no.
Thomas Winters (Tom Sizemore) is a successful doctor, though his marriage to Brenda (Margaret Reed) is falling apart, mostly due to his constant drinking. Thomas has tried to stop several times with limited success. In New York City on business for a few days, the doctor runs into former flame Anna (Cybil Lake). She takes this reconnection as a sign, as Thomas, in a moment of weakness, succumbs to temptation and sleeps with her.
This only affirms to Anna that they belong together, and now, she won’t leave him alone. But Thomas rebuffs her, so she jumps out the window. But now, she’s haunting his dreams, telling him all about the long, horrific history of the creation of Central Park. Then she begins to show up at Thomas’ apartment all hours of the night, including sneaking in when he’s on the phone with his daughter, Mandy (Lily Peterson). But, how is that possible if Anna’s dead? Is she gaslighting Thomas or performing some kind of ritual?
“…she begins to show up to Thomas’ apartment all hours of the night, including sneaking in when he’s on the phone with his daughter…”
While Central Park Dark ultimately proves to be worth it, it is a bit of a bumpy ride. The biggest issue is the elusive nature of what Anna is doing to Thomas. In his dreams, Thomas hears mention of something called The Unnameable. This is supposedly to lift a curse that is upon Anna. But, whether that curse is death (i.e., she’s trying to come back to life) or relates to her being descended from a founder of Seneca Village is never made clear. Either option is just as viable as the other. While the ambiguity is intriguing and brave, it does keep the viewer at bay, as one is never sure of Anna’s motivations.
Late in the film, she kidnaps Mandy but lets her go after the young teen hurts her ankle. This duality is intriguing, as Anna does what the ghost of her mom, who she talks to through a hand mirror, tells her to. So this breaking away and proving she has a good heart is fascinating but is hampered by the audience never really understanding what the character is aiming for. So in one way, the ambiguity adds a certain level of unease, as she can do anything, but it prevents her from becoming a fully fleshed-out character.
The other issue is the movie’s score is not very good. Craig Slon composed the music, and it rarely fits the tone. In one scene, as Anna tells Thomas about the dark past of Central Park, the music is cheery, which really destroys the morbid, uneasy atmosphere of the story being told. Another moment sees Sizemore’s character walk down the street, desperately searching for Lake’s possibly dead persona, and the score sounds more appropriate for an intimate, romantic sequence. It just does not work even once during the entire hour and 22-minute runtime.
"…taking cues from the likes of Adrian Lyne and John Dahl...the sexual thriller is undoubtedly ambitious."