Edinburgh International Film Festival

The Dark (2005)

Starring: Sean Bean, Maria Bello, Maurice Roves, Sophie Stuckey, Abigail Stone

Directed by: John Fawcett

Rating: 1 2 3 4

Maria Bello in The Dark

The Dark is based on a novel called Sheep. Sheep are, generally, not very scary (although that's what I thought about cows until I saw Dead Meat). However, in this absorbing and intriguing horror film from Ginger Snaps director John Fawcett, it's not the sheep we need to be afraid of.

The film is set in the middle of nowhere (always a good start), on the wild, rugged and desolate coastline of South Wales. A New York divorcee, Adele (Maria Bello) is taking her daughter Sarah to visit her father, James (Sean Bean), who has escaped to this rural retreat to paint and sculpt, and, one assumes, get as far away from his irritating ex-wife as possible. A sinister standing stone, suicidal sheep, dark Welsh folklore and an old local legend of a weird cult leader called the Shepherd who drove his flock of believers to their deaths all contrive to build up a promising air of suspense and unease.

And then, Sarah vanishes, swept into the cruel sea and carried away. But whilst James is out in the lifeboats, looking suitably rugged and virile, searching for her, Adele is down the local library, piecing together the sinister history of the house and its previous occupants, convinced that therein lies the key to her daughter's disappearance.

And that's where I'll stop, because I really don't want to give too much away about this film. Stuffed as The Dark is with horror movie clichés (banging windows, creepy children, a spooky attic full of weird but significant objects, etc), the plot is nevertheless intricate and exciting, filled with twists and turns which in retrospect seem horribly inevitable, yet at the time are surprising and occasionally shocking.

A little bit Don't Look Now, a little bit Poltergeist, the obvious comparison is with The Ring 2 (and the fact that Maria Bello is a deadringer for Naomi Watts doesn't help). The films share similar themes (possession, madness, sacrifice, the power of a mother's love), and, it must be said, some practically identical scenes, but The Dark really is so much better: the plot actually makes sense, for a start (even if it does go a bit crazy towards the end), and is more than just an excuse to string together a sequence of scary images, while the characters - neurotic, haunted Adele and down to earth, practical James - seem real and believable.

Eschewing the jet black humour of teen werewolf movie Ginger Snaps for a more traditional slant on the horror genre, John Fawcett has created a tense and involving film with a dark, gothic heart. Are you afraid of The Dark? You will be.

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