The Fear of Darkness
Maeve Dermody as Dr. Sarah Faithfull
Penelope Mitchell as Skye Williams
Mark Leonard Winter as Matt Sorensen
Maeve Dermody stars as Dr. Sarah Faithfull – a psychologist with plenty of baggage to call her own. She’s brought in to handle the case of young Skye Williams (Penelope Mitchell) after Skye is suspected in the murder/disappearance of her boyfriend. Skye insists that it was some sort of entity… some kind of “darkness” which was the cause of her boyfriend’s death/disappearance. Through the treatment of Skye, Sarah must come face to face with her own demons and stand up to the possible “darkness” which soon begins to equally surround her. There is the introduction of a powerful hallucinogen (DMT – Dimethyltryptamine) which could be to blame for Skye’s possible departures from reality.
Per writer/director Fitchett, the inspiration for the film began with an article about this psychedelic drug.
CF: “I read an article about these students who had taken DMT. It’s a real drug, a powerful hallucinogen. I didn’t know anything about until I read this article in 2008. One of the people who took it said they had had an encounter with an alien being. When I read that, I got a chill down my spine. So I thought, ‘that’s a really creepy premise for a movie.’ I thought about my experiences in the 1970s at Melbourne U, where I was doing psychology. A lot of my colleagues/students who were with me were doing LSD. So I based one of the characters on those experiences – using something more powerful than LSD. I was Interested in the psychology of it all.”
Maeve Dermody has a very Nicole Kidman – “Ice Queen” quality. And that serves the role of Sarah quite well. Sarah’s inquisitive and intelligent, but Dermody always manages to have the vulnerability of the character right at her fingertips. As things become more and more strange and personal, Dermody does a splendid job of taking us with her as Sarah’s perceptions change. There are many quiet and effective moments for the character, as she investigates further into Skye’s quickly-becoming-more-plausible claims.
Penelope Mitchell (of Hemlock Grove and The Vampire Diaries) is Skye. Skye’s ragged and exhausted through much of the picture, as she deals with the PTSD she is suffering through following the events in the opening of the film. Mitchell brings a realism to Skye’s struggle. You’re constantly on edge as you watch her, wondering if/when the “darkness” will return. In other words, you sympathize with Skye. She’s very troubled, but based on what you’ve seen, you already believe her. So the journey for us as we witness her dilemma – is how will Skye convince Sarah and the other investigators of the truth? In that, Skye is the other side of the coin. We’re along with Sarah for the mystery, but we are also able to follow Skye as she tries to overcome her situation. With that fact, Fitchett has truly created a film with two equal and equally intriguing leads – which is very important for the overall story and eventual revelations. It’s a great chemistry between the actresses – which translates to a believable bond between the characters.
I asked Fitchett how he found these two leads.
CF: “Luck. Australia’s got fantastic actors. I wanted two that were very similar in look. Penelope Mitchell was suggested by someone. I saw her in a documentary about Australian actresses going to Hollywood, called Next Stop Hollywood. She was fabulous. Fantastic personality. I met with her in Melbourne and she was absolutely perfect. Maeve had been in a film called Black Water. I actually knew her mother – a professor of film – and had worked with her many years ago. Maeve was in a film which was directed by her mother when Maeve was eight. So I sort of knew her. When someone suggested her, I thought she was perfect with Penelope. When I finally had them in the same room, they were like sisters.”
The cinematography (an award nomination from FilmQuest) by Jason Hargreaves is truly the star of the picture. The striking and beautiful shots of the rural home where Skye (and indeed Sarah) must discover the truth of the darkness are jaw-dropping. Sweeping shots of the nearby lake and the trees surrounding the picturesque house and lot – worthy of a few rewinds for further examination. Equally as lovely are the opposite shots of the city skyline where Sarah practices and calls home. If you’re a smart film-goer, you’ll quickly see the comparisons of the urban, sophisticated Sarah and her environment, to the country house and the more rural-minded Skye. There are clues to be had here.
There is a twist. I won’t spoil anything, but I can say that I didn’t see it coming – which is always a nice relief. In a picture like this, it’s a pleasure to see that so many subtle, seemingly throw-away puzzle pieces are nicely in place for when the big reveal is explained.
When I asked Fitchett about when/how he found the twist, this was his reply:
CF: I always wanted to do a mystery – an investigation. The script was always a bit short and I thought there was a third act or something missing. One day it just hit me. That changed everything and I filtered that right through the rest of the script.”
At the 2015 FilmQuest Festival, The Fear of Darkness was nominated for Best Feature Film, Best Director (Christopher Fitchett), Best Actress (Maeve Dermody),Best Supporting Actress (Penelope Mitchell), Best Screenplay (Christopher Fitchett), Best Cinematography and Best Sound. Sadly, it took home only one Cthulu Award – for Best Sound.
Per Fitchett, the film will be distributed by Millenium Films – with a release sometime at the end of the year.
I for one found the picture slow at times, and would have loved to see the more “horrific” version, which Fitchett talked a little about…
CF: “The original script was more horrific. At the point where the creature (the darkness) is revealed, I had a full-on fight. About 10 minutes. It was a battle between darkness and light. It was huge! It involved fire, the lake – underneath the water. As a writer, I was just putting that into the third act. My producer said, ‘This is going to cost 30 million – therefore you’re not directing it.’ I wanted to get back into directing, so I pared it down in terms of action. There was even a car chase.”
The Fear of Darkness is nothing that will blow your mind or change your life, but is can boast a beautifully shot picture with stunning compositions, strong performances and plenty of tension, making it well worth your time.
And the intriguing twist will no doubt delight you and inspire you to go back for a repeat viewing (a la The Sixth Sense) to see what clues you may have missed.