August 18, 2006
After starting in T.V. with Xena: Warrior Princess, John Fawcett hit his stride with the werewolf horror Ginger Snaps; a refreshing female take on the lycanthrope legend that put expensive studio fare to shame. Sadly, he only had a peripheral involvement with its two sequels and went back to dabbling on the small screen (Taken, Mutant X), but now he’s back with The Dark, a horror set on the Isle of Man involving sheep, torture and (gulp) The Welsh. Argh!
The Dark sank without a trace at the box office and while it’s not the best or most original horror ever made, it is better than most of the Sixth Sense rip-offs we’ve had to put up with in the last five years. Based on the novel Sheep by Simon Maginn, The Dark centres around a mother and daughter who visit estranged father James (Bean in sleepwalk mode) on the Isle of Man. Things get twitchy when Sarah witnesses some sheep committing suicide by jumping off a cliff, and soon after she disappears herself. Did she drown or was she taken by the dark forces that have a history in James’s old cottage?
The Dark is nicely shot – it certainly lives up to its name. You’ll be squinting at the screen more often than not. And if the scares are old hat (a reflection in a mirror, a door banging shut), at least they’re done well. The concept of a purgatory where a living person can be sacrificed for the return of a dead one isn’t new either (Pet Semetary anyone?) and while this unique Welsh Netherworld called Annwn has never been explored on film before, it is both the film’s curse and saving grace. Curse because the second half is rather muddled and saving grace because Fawcett presents Annwn (pronounced Ar-noon) as a sort of temporal dreamstate sapped of colour; a parallel world that’s the same but different. (If you’ve played the Playstation game Soul Reaver you’ll have a good idea of the concept).
Without such interesting characters as Brigitte or Ginger, all Fawcett is left with is some pretty photography and a lot of wood. Or Sean Bean as he’s better known. Perhaps if he’d stuck to Maginn’s original story instead of changing it almost beyond recognition (he wanted to make a supernatural thriller instead of a straight horror) he might have been on more stable ground. Fawcett still manages a few surprises (James blows up at his wife, telling her there’s no way their daughter is still alive, only to turn around and see…well, you’ll find out) and at least attempts a different sort of ending, but it’s all a bit hit and miss.
Overall The Dark has the faint whiff of studio re-editing around the edges, but just about works as a good old-fashioned campfire tale. And it does look great. Which leaves us with an entertaining, but ultimately average horror.
An alternative and arguably better ending, a trailer and interviews with the main cast and crew. Fawcett loses points for “wanting to work with Paul W.S. Anderson,” and openly butchering the original author’s novel; every writer’s nightmare.