May 18, 2007
After acclaimed performances in two high profile movies – American Beauty (1999) and Ghost World (2001) – Thora Birch was on the brink of becoming the “next big thing.” Whether by fate or by design, she shunned the spotlight in favour of low-key fare like the direct-to-video thriller, The Hole (2001), the little-seen John Sayles film, Silver City (2004), and her most recent effort, Dark Corners (2006). It would seem that, unlike some of her contemporaries (Keira Knightley, Scarlett Johansson), she eschews high profile studio films in favour of modestly budgeted films with more challenging material that she can sink her teeth into.
Susan (Birch) is a young woman who suffers from horrible dreams where she has brown hair and is bleeding. She throws up a key with the same number as the time on a nearby digital clock. She lives in a grungy apartment. Susan wakes up with her husband Dave. They’ve just celebrated their fifth anniversary and are trying to have a baby. Meanwhile, young women with blond hair are being brutally murdered by a serial killer known as the Night Stalker.
In the alternate reality, her name is Karen and she dreams that she is Susan who is being pursued by a hooded killer. Which world is real and which one is simply a manifestation of her mind? As Susan’s nightmares get increasingly worse, a co-worker recommends a hypnotherapist, Dr. Woodleigh (Stephens), a creepily confident person.
Is it a dream or an alternate reality created by her subconscious a la Lost Highway (1997) brought on by the anxiety over her fertility treatment? This is not surprising as David Lynch’s influence looms large over this movie. Susan’s slow motion drive through an idyllic suburb evokes the opening sequence of Blue Velvet (1986). This film is heavily indebted to Lynch’s films, most notably the aforementioned Lost Highway and also Mulholland Drive (2001) with its doppelganger protagonist with a tormented psyche and who encounters an assortment of freaks and psychotic killers. There’s even the use of a video camera depicting a horrible act reminiscent of Lost Highway.
Thora Birch does a fine job, delivering a naturalistic performance that helps anchor the film, especially when things get increasingly strange. She elicits a natural sympathy so that we care about what happens to her even if we don’t understand what’s going on.
Director Ray Gower gives each reality its own distinct look. Susan’s world is brightly lit with a predominantly white colour scheme while Karen’s world is dark, grimy and dominated by blacks, browns and dark blues. The film is competent in terms of direction and writing (although, he has a tendency to telegraph his plot twists) but lacks that special something that makes Lynch’s films so powerful and memorable. At the end of the day, Dark Corners feels derivative of Lynch’s work.
There is a theatrical trailer.
Also included is “Out of the Shadows – Making of Dark Corners.” Gower cites Lynch, David Cronenberg and Wes Craven as influences with Asian horror as the stylistic inspiration. He goes on to talk about how Thora Birch was his first choice to play Susan/Karen. There is on-the-set footage of the cast and crew filming various scenes. This is a nice, little snapshot of indie horror filmmaking.