A disturbed young woman must confront her worst fears when she finds herself trapped alone in a New York City loft during the 2003 blackout.
Big city setting. Mentally unhinged beauty. Descent into madness. Watching 2015’s horror-indie Dark, I was reminded of Barbet Schroeders’s Single White Female and of last year’s indie flick; Excess Flesh.
It’s the hot summer of 2003, and New York City is in the historic (and true) blackout – one to end all blackouts. Kate – played by Whitney Able (of 2010’s indie hit Monsters) is a former model, teaching yoga and adjusting to a recent move-in (presumably a re-move-in) with her girlfriend Leah (The Walking Dead’s Alexandra Breckenridge). Kate lifelessly and listlessly goes about her day, and is left alone in their very urban loft apartment (think brick and exposed ducts – but the real kind of an older building) when Leah takes a trip home to visit family. Coincidentally, that’s also the evening when the power goes out in the Big Apple, and Kate is left with only the silence and an overwhelming onslaught of her failing mental health, paranoia, self-destructive behavior and any number of other inner demons. Add to that the darkened, dangerous and newly mysterious city, and you’ve got a powder keg of emotional delights, just waiting to explode forth from Kate’s mind.
While there are certainly some more tense and frightening sequences in Dark (that flashlight/staircase sequence is terrifically scary) – more than anything, the film is a character study and a psychological thriller. Kate is severely damaged and we get to take that journey with her – every step of the way.
Speaking of Kate, performance takes center stage in Dark. All of the supporting roles are filled with gifted actors of note, but no one can draw attention away from Whitney Able (physically, the love child of Urban Legend’s Alicia Witt and Single White Female’s Jennifer Jason Leigh) in the lead role. The film is hers, and moment after moment, she delivers honesty. The film is basically a dark (ahem) path into someone’s mental breakdown. And Able goes there. There doesn’t appear to be any holding back – physically or mentally. More than once, Able is nude – but there’s never any shame or apprehension. It’s these moments where you know that the actor has fully committed to the role. Able’s a good cryer and it’s these emotional outbursts which most impressed.
As Leah, Kate’s lover – Alexandra Breckenridge (I couldn’t place her until the end credits – she was a blonde with long hair in this latest season of The Walking Dead – Rick’s pseudo-love interest in Alexandria) doesn’t have a ton of screen-time, but moments like her tearful heart-to-heart with Kate in the park, offer up plenty of good dialogue to show off Breckenridge’s substantial acting chops. Breckenridge won a Best Supporting Actress in a Feature award at the International Filmmaker Festival of World Cinema; Milan, for her role in Dark.
There was quite a bit left unsaid and unexplained. Prolific and immediately recognizable character actor Michael Eklund shows up as a potential love interest for Kate, while she’s out on a nighttime bender. Many times Eklund has played some extreme sort of weirdo (see The Call, The Divide), but here he was charming and a welcome diversion from all of Kate’s own inner mind-play. Thing is, by the time the film ends, we don’t know if he was real or not. I’m not saying I needed to be spoon-fed, and some of the ambiguity worked – but I so liked his character and his brief performance, I would have liked to know who or what he was – or indeed, what became of him.
On the same token of further explanation, I would have liked to know a bit more of what drove Kate to such extremes. I get the simple burn-out of her strenuous modeling career, but it would have done wonders to know if there were other pieces to that neurotic and mentally ill puzzle. Why, oh why, was she so damaged? But, I guess you can’t have this claustrophobic, inner struggle (physically and mentally) with too much exposition. I wanted the mystery, but I also wanted to know more. There’s gotta be a happy medium somewhere.
I did see the ending coming. However, I don’t believe it was meant to be some great mystery. And while I had other ideas for a possible outcome – like, “did the entire film take place in the blink of an eye?” – but as the film continued, the ending that came to pass, was appropriate, if unsurprising. And indeed, no other ending would have seemed justified.
A great soundtrack (including a track from the late, great Nina Simone and a jarring score from Kenneth Lampl) amp up the moodiness of the film. The editing was also a genuine standout – serving to properly illustrate Kate’s mood swings and mental breaks.
Look. The film wasn’t all hunky-dory. Despite the fact that I do understand what the filmmakers were going for – a closer look at a broken mind – I still longed for something to happen. The film is greatly effective because of its technical achievements and certainly because of the performances. But with little to no action (aside from the aforementioned staircase sequence) it dragged for much of the running time. I think the same story could have been told in a short film format, and not much would have been lost.
Executive produced by the legendary Joe Dante (director of Gremlins and The Howling, among so many others), Dark is more than a slow burn – indeed, it’s just slow. As I said, with so little action, this film will not be everyone’s cup of tea. But if you can make it through, you’ll be rewarded with tremendous acting work, solid production values and tantalizing questions to take you into the next day.
Dark was nominated for the Audience Award and for Outstanding Performance by an Actress (Whitney Able) at the 2015 Oldenburg Film Festival. The film is currently available on DVD and VOD platforms.