UK (UK/Ger) 2005
Starring : Maria Bello, Sean Bean
Director : John Fawcett
AN opening title-card informs the audience that The Dark was adapted from Simon Maginn's 1993 novel Sheep - but there can have been few recent releases whose plot diverges so drastically, and so damagingly, from an original text. Scriptwriter Stephen Massicotte retains Maginn's setting on the Welsh coast (though the film was shot on the Isle of Man), the sheep (who have much less to do here), and the vaguest outlines of the plot.
When the young teenage daughter (Sophie Stuckey) of an estranged couple (Bello, Bean) apparently drowns, the mother becomes convinced that the child isn't actually dead but is being kept prisoner in a kind of limbo – a 'zone' from which she might possibly be rescued. This leads to increasingly clunky shenanigans in the Ring vein: indeed, the incoherent climax bears eerie similarities to a sequence at the end of The Ring Two (2004), though given the chronology of the two productions this resemblance is presumably coincidental.
Elements of Poltergeist II, The Wicker Man, Pet Sematary, The Fog and even Don't Look Now surface in a script which has the distinct feel of having been rewritten and rewritten until nearly every trace of the original plot has been lost. This is especially tough on Bello, who has steadily worked her way to the brink of stardom over the last few years: her scandalous omission from the Best Supporting Actress Oscar shortlist (for David Cronenberg's peerless A History of Violence) was an injustice that makes the Crash / Brokeback Mountain imbroglio look like very small beer indeed. Bello is long overdue a juicy lead role in a proper movie – this emphatically isn't it.
She nevertheless fares rather better than Bean (with Inside Man already in multiplexes and Silent Hill just around the corner, officially Britain's busiest actor at present) who contributes an unexpectedly weak turn as the husband – one which suggests he should concentrate on the villainous-Brit roles he usually lands in Hollywood blockbusters. Neither scary nor involving, the film provides further ammunition for those of us who reckon that Canadian director Fawcett's last feature, the I-was-a-teenage-lesbian-werewolf opus Ginger Snaps (2000), was more than a touch overrated. Admirers of Maginn's (genuinely chilling) novel, meanwhile – indeed, anyone in search of a decent horror movie -are advised to be very afraid of The Dark…
for Tribune magazine*
click here for original short review, from 2005 Edinburgh Film Festival
* this is a slightly longer version of the review than the one which will appear in print.