Disjointed but watchable, The Dark within has a promising opening and set up reminiscent of other paranormal thrillers like the Fury or Scanners. Director David Ryan Keith does an admirable job of creating a creepy, brooding, uncomfortable atmosphere. Unfortunately, any goodwill that was built up in act one is squandered in the rest of the film.
Ostensibly this is a movie about a young man with vague psychic powers trying to figure out what happened to his parents. It could be argued that the film is told from his perspective and, since his sanity is in question, we can’t really assume any of this is real. But, if that is what they were going for, it didn’t really come through. In execution, it is a series of terrible decisions that are not only unmotivated but also nonsensical.
“…a young man with vague psychic powers trying to figure out what happened to his parents.”
Early in the film, he is amnesiac who doesn’t remember exactly what happened to his parents. His therapist thinks it would be a good idea for him to go to his family’s cabin alone to see if any new memories spring up. Somehow this is all part of his probation. For what? Who knows. He then meets up with an ex-girlfriend who gets mad and reminds him about the restraining order she has on him. For what? Who knows.
His therapist drops him off in the woods to find his families old cabin. If this is part of his probation, I can’t help but wonder what state this is? While there he finds a random vial of mystery liquid in the woods and, after some deliberation, he drinks it. Why? Who knows. The best reason we’re given is he has a flashback about the time his dad gave him some juice. He begins to convulse and cough up blood. And here is where, logically, the movie should have ended. But instead, we take a few sharp left turns.
“…since his sanity is in question, we can’t really assume any of this is real…”
The Dark Within goes from a creepy, moody piece to a Sam Raimi-pastiche. We get flashbacks, possessions, government cover-ups, old lovers, murder, and lots and lots of blood. It is as if at this point, they just threw everything they could think of at the script. They cram so many ideas into this movie I’m shocked there wasn’t a musical number or a recipe for cake. The one thing they left out, unfortunately, is any scares.
The Dark Within is a movie that asks the viewer, what is real? By the end of the film, however, I just did not care. As a film, it just can’t seem to decide what it wants to be and lacks a sense of self. Is it a psychological horror? Is it a gore fest? Is it a supernatural thriller? I’ve said it before; I’m all for genre-bending, but at some point, a direction has to be picked. At times it seems as though the filmmakers don’t have a clear idea what this movie is about. And without that core idea to build on, everything else just feels like mindless flailing about.
The Dark Within (2019) Directed by David Ryan Keith. Written by Paul Flannery and David Ryan Keith. Starring Paul Flannery, Stephanie Lynn Styles, Mark Wood.
4 out of 10