Modern horror fans are a tough crowd; if your film is too intelligent, a lot will complain that it’s “too cerebral” and “not scary”. If you make it simple and direct, well then some folks will tell you it’s “lacking substance” or has a “tired”, “old”, or “rehashed” plot. If it has jump scares, then one group feels it’s “shallow”, and if it’s a slow-burn, atmospheric piece, another will tell you it’s “boring”. I gotta give it up for the guys and gals that keep plugging away with their work, knowing that no matter what they do, derision is coming from some direction. Of course, that’s the nature of the beast, same with any kind of art; I’m just always fascinated by how often opinions on horror flicks are so often polarizing.
This soapbox moment does have a purpose, Fellow Fans; as I prepared to review Conor McMahon’s intimate little scare flick From The Dark, I noticed that there’s a lot of love for the film out there, but also a really copious body of hate…but I’ll get to that.
First, the film…
A farmer working his field unearths something; something ancient, something vicious…something hungry. We move from there to a couple who are traveling along these lonely country roads. The hazardous, muddy conditions causes their vehicle to become mired, unable to move. The pair make their way to the only farmhouse they’ve seen for miles, but (you guessed it!) it just so happens to be the home of our unfortunate farmer, and he seems to have become far worse for wear since his earlier encounter. The couple attempts to help the old man, but he assaults them, then disappears. Things getting a little too weird, the two decide to go back and take their chances at their car, but are attacked on the way by something that comes out of the darkness; this prompts them to try wait out the night in the farmhouse and set out for help at first light…but light becomes all too important as they find themselves under siege by whatever was dug up from the earth, something that strikes from the shadows and it abhorrent of any light.
Struggling to survive, the duo find that light is their only safety, but the nefarious being is quite intelligent, and finds means to put them into darkness regardless of their efforts. Whether or not they survive the night depends on their ability to hold the darkness, and the creature that dwells within it, at bay.
If that sounds like a simple plot, it’s because it is; a couple trapped in an isolated location, stalked by a monster vulnerable to light, trying to survive the night. That’s all there is to it, and I for one don’t find that a bad thing. There’s very little dialogue, so the film relies on McMahon’s astute shot choices ranging from wide shots showing we the audience what’s just out of the character’s sight, to extreme close in, claustrophobic shots, drawing us into the tight confines of the darkness along with them. This lack of speaking also creates a great opportunity for the actors to show off their craft, being relegated to primarily facial expressions and body language to fulfill their performances; I give a special tip of the hat to the female lead, Niamh Algar, for her work in this role. She gives us quite the resourceful and determined heroine, far from the damsel in distress one would initially expect. The monster (although it’s never called by a name, you ain’t worth your salt as a horror fan if you don’t figure out what it is rather quickly) is handled like any good monster should be; heard more than seen, and typically seen only in quick glimpses or silhouette; of course, it’s aversion to light keeps it in the shadows.
When we do get a full view, the makeup work is quite impressive, and a nice homage to what has gone before. Beyond the creature, the rest of the FX work is very effective, if economical; you see enough to get you where you need to be in terms of the horror, but it’s done in such a way as that you don’t see much. This “less-is-more” approach is a staple of greats like John Carpenter, and in my opinion was used very well in this film.
I thoroughly enjoyed this flick; sure, it wasn’t a very complex plotline, but it damned sure kept me entertained. It was well-shot, well-acted, and didn’t drag or overstep its own bounds. That’s really all I ask of a good scare film. As I said earlier, there’s a whole lotta hatin’ goin’ on for this one in a lot of what I read; now, I firmly believe everyone is entitled to their opinion, but I just have to comment on a couple of the prevalent gripes that I saw.
1) There’s no story here; it’s just two people hiding from a monster; what’s so interesting about that? We’ve seen it a million times…
This is true; the story isn’t the most original I’ve ever seen. In my opinion, however, it had enough freshness about it to hold my interest and leave me glad I watched it. Honestly, how many horror films come down the pipe that don’t bear any resemblance to one that has been done before? Sure, there are new twists, and every once in a while you get something totally new, but that’s rare. So long as a horror film does it’s job, I don’t complain too much if it’s not something I’ve never seen before; if everyone really felt that way, then The Walking Dead would have been a sure flop.
2) The characters were SO stupid; they didn’t make good decisions or use the obvious light sources available to them.
OK, I agree with that to a point, but I fall back on two things: One, as I’ve said before, if people in movies always made the smart choices, films would seriously suck. Half the fun of a feature like this is yelling at the screen “DON’T GO IN THERE!! WHY IN THE HELL IS SHE GOING UP THERE?!?” Second, how many of us can honestly say that under the kind of pressure these characters are under, that they themselves would notice every single detail of their environment and make maximum use of it? I mean, it’s easy for us to sit comfortably in our living rooms and armchair quarterback the flick, but if we were really in that situation, how can we be so self-assured that we’d perform so much better?
Again, I will adamantly defend anyone who does not like this movie’s right not to like it; I just want to provide a counterpoint to a couple of instances where I think others may not have really thought through their reasons for not liking it.
Wouldn’t want you Fellow Fans out there to miss out on what I thought was a pretty good film without both sides of the story. 🙂
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