As a vehicle for tension and dread, Dark Encounter is largely successful. The problem is nearly every arresting visual or suspenseful set-piece is blatantly pirated from some other iconic film, Poltergeist, Interstellar, E.T., and Close Encounters, to name just a few. Allusion can be a powerful storytelling device, not just for the fun of interacting with savvy audiences, but because it can play with built-in expectations to create something truly new and unexpected from the familiar. Unfortunately, Dark Encounter is not so much sampling and reappropriating its influences as it is stealing from them and, as a result, robbing itself of the opportunity to express its own voice. One particularly conspicuous element is the time period in which the story is set. Besides some minor production value, nothing is added to the aesthetic or subtext of the film by making it a 1980s period piece other than some kind of obligatory nod to the heyday of Spielberg, Carpenter, and Dante. It felt like another addition to the current trend seen in everything from Stranger Things to the It remake, to Spielberg’s own self-cannibalizing Ready Player One, of idealizing and trying to reenact the tentpole films of the filmmakers’ youth. To be clear, the result is a very competent reproduction, but, at least for me, much of the magic was lost in translation.
“Allusion can be a powerful storytelling device…it can play with built-in expectations to create something truly new…”
What is most frustrating about Dark Encounter is it clearly does have ideas of its own it wants and seems capable of exploring. At its best, it manages to meld otherworldly tension with the drama of dysfunctional family dynamics. It just gets so lost in its fascination with recreating its influences that it forgets to give its characters things to do. The cast, which is filled with talented performers, was mostly relegated to cowering in terror as they are enveloped by blinding lights, particularly Laura Fraser, who plays Olivia, the family matriarch. Her expressive eyes ably communicate the emotional turmoil she is experiencing, but as the sole personality trait she is allowed to demonstrate, it only goes so far. The promising, yet under realized characters is just one of the many elements of the film that beg the question, what were the priorities in making Dark Encounter? Was it to mimic something the filmmakers’ love or to try to synthesize something new from its DNA? While I may feel the film is ultimately weighed down by this objective, to its credit, the twist finale totally sticks the landing and reveals that for all its desire to recreate, its strongest quality was its own finely crafted plotting.
"…approaches the theme of attention from otherworldly visitors with a decidedly darker view."