The Dark is a horror movie that tries something unusual, and in a lot of ways, commendable: it engenders a surprising amount of empathy for its monster and has as much to say about friendship and loyalty as it does cruelty and evil.
The film feels, throughout its engrossing and very well-crafted first half, like something really special. And because of that, it’s more than a little bit heartbreaking that it never finds a satisfying way to tie its themes together and deliver the fully realized, resonant story that it promises early on.
But, boy, do writer/director Justin P. Lange and his very capable cast have a good thing going through most of The Dark‘s first and second acts. The film comes on mysterious and unsettling, tantalizingly avoids revealing its secrets too early, and hits upon a nicely balanced mix of full-on horror and poignant character drama as the story comes into focus. For a while, at least, it’s spellbinding.
What makes The Dark‘s opening sequences so compelling is that – like a good short horror story – the film drops viewers into the midst of an eerie situation without immediately announcing the particulars. We’re introduced to a shifty older man named Josef (Karl Markovics), who are traveling for some as-yet-unknown reason to a remote forest known as Devil’s Den, and though he’s obviously haunted by something, he seems to be the film’s protagonist – until a grim surprise reveals his true place in the story. He does eventually arrive in Devil’s Den, with blind preteen Alex (Toby Nichols) in tow, and it’s there that the pair comes across a dilapidated house deep in the woods and its sole resident: an abandoned girl named Mina (Nadia Alexander).
“…the pair comes across a dilapidated house deep in the woods and its sole resident…”