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Dark, The
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by Jay Seaver

"A thoughtful but no less thrilling story of the monsters in the woods."
5 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2018 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: "The Dark" is good horror-movie stuff that starts with a couple of great bits of misdirection before the story proper begins, good enough that I almost don't want to talk about where it really goes, because discovering it is a lot of nerve-wracking fun and makes the result kind of beautiful. But since a good review tells you why I like it, here goes.

It starts with a tense little bit - twitchy-looking Josef (Karl Markovics) stopping at a gas station, getting an odd assortment of snacks from the convenience store, and ripping open a map before he pays for it. The proprietor doesn't much like him, or any of the tourists who come looking to scare themselves in "Devil's Den". It turns out someone is not what he seems here, and further, when things do get to Devil's Den, there is yet more to be afraid of - although what's there is not, it turns out, as completely inhuman as one might have assumed.

That opening gambit is something that genre audiences have seen rather a lot, but it's still pretty effective; filmmaker Justin P. Lange keeps potential distractions like music to a tense minimum, introduces incongruous bits that pique interest at the time and make a lot more sense later without being clear foreshadowing, and teases the audience with some clear genre knowledge that nevertheless doesn't become a wink and deconstruction. It's well-executed horror material that does a couple of things before the audience is completely ready, giving them both a tingle of excitement and leaving the rest of the film wide open.

That rest of the film turns out to be an intriguing look at monsters, human and otherwise, what sorts are irredeemable, and how you get back, especially if you became one as a result of abuse. It's built around a nifty if sometimes obvious visual metaphor, but it works, with a lot of great atmosphere and details that are doled out in just the right amounts, whether that be long, clear flashbacks or little hints. Though it's metaphorical enough to sometimes detach from the violence, it doesn't minimize it or act like the fact that murder is going on doesn't matter. At some points, Lange does seem to worry a bit too much about padding it out to 90 minutes - there are a couple of kills that don't just seem unnecessary but counterproductive - but the result winds up pretty rich.

That's in large part because of an excellent cast. Karl Markovics is good as Josef, but the film is carried in large part by the excellent work of younger actors. I'm not sure I'd let my hypothetical kids act in this one, but both Nadia Alexander and Toby Nichols are terrific, especially working under a bunch of prosthetic makeup. The pair of them have to carry a lot of the movie on their own, sometimes seeming to have a metaphorical hand tied behind their backs because both of their characters are quiet and because the characters' facial injuries limit what they can do, but there's a nifty chemistry between them that keeps the audience leaning forward rather than just fidgeting.

There will be some fidgeting, especially since it's not exactly uncommon for horror movies to miss the point or undercut it in the name of getting one more scare. Fortunately, Lange knows where he wants the line between his people and his monsters, and how he wants to cross it.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=32395&reviewer=371
originally posted: 07/24/18 14:44:30
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2018 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2018 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

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Directed by
  Justin P. Lange

Written by
  Justin P. Lange

Cast
  Nadia Alexander
  Toby Nichols
  Karl Markovics



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