In a Dark Place
First Look Pictures // R // $26.99 // June 19, 2007
Review by J. Doyle Wallis | posted June 22, 2007
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In A Dark Place is a Euro production (specifically the UK and Luxembourg) from 2005 that adapts Henry James gothic classic "The Turn of the Screw" into modern times. The story served as the framework for The Others and has been adapted many times on film, perhaps most notably in the 1961 film The Innocents starring Deborah Kerr.

Leelee Sobieski (A Soldiers Daughter Never Cries, Joy Ride) plays Anna, an art teacher recently released from her job because she was too attached to her students. She promptly gets employed as the governess for a pair of children, Flora and Miles. Following their parents death, the siblings have been under the custody of an uncaring, mogul uncle Mr Liang, who wants absolutely nothing to do with them. Anna travels to the one of the families secluded estates along with the Liang's secretary Miss Grose, played by Tara Fitzgerald (Sirens).

Things are creepy from the start. Anna hears whispers and chatter in the night. Miles is mysteriously kicked out of boarding school. Anna learns that the children's former nanny died via drowning in the nearby lake and her lover, the house caretaker, committed suicide shortly after. Anna begins to see the apparitions. She first suspects the ghosts of the nanny and caretaker haunting the grounds with ill intent aimed at the children, then begins to think the children and the ghosts are conspiring in some way, and Anna becomes convinced that she must save them, force them to confront the truth. Or, maybe its all in her head?

James source story has long been noted as an effective example of painting a gothic atmosphere and pulling off effective ambiguity. The latter end will forever be debated by critics, if it's a made up a tale, the account of a mad person, or a straight ghost story. In A Dark Place doesn't go for the ambiguity and flat out states whether Anna is insane and imagining the haunting or if it is real. James tale also can be seen having a strong subtext about repression and the film effectively modernizes this by having Anna be a survivor of sexual abuse (suspecting that the children were abused by the nanny and caretaker, thus the haunting) and a lesbian (throwing in a twisted, manipulative relationship with Miss Grose).

Unfortunately a limited script, budget, and mediocre direction kills the film. Having a one location film can be a blessing and curse. Here , the actual house and surroundings are quite bland and director Donato Rotunno doesn't help matters by often filming the rooms and exteriors from the exact same angle, repeating shots over and over again. The horrors are kept to old school stuff- figures in distance shots, shadowy corners, echo-drenched whispers, and the like. The terseness and scary atmosphere might read well, but on film, it doesn't translate to many jumps. Well, unless you find slight whispers and still figures standing a football field away really frightening.

Leelee Sobieski proves to be ill fitting as lead. Her natural, tight coiled demeanor and monotone voice lends to unconvincing expressions ranging from blank to forced. Donato seems to think that filming her in the bath and an open robe will make up for this. Its actually pretty laughable. Within the first five minutes she's had two obligatory bath scenes. Later, Anna passes out, wakes up hearing voices, walks around in an open robe (for the fourth or fifth time in the film), then, takes a bath. Again, later, Anna has a tryst with Miss Grose, wakes up, walks around in an open robe, has a ghostly crack-up, solution: take a bath! Miles escapes off into the night, they get him out of the cold, Anna sleeps in his room, of course, in a an open robe. You get the idea. Rinse (pun intended) and repeat. I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if the Japanese title to the film was translated as: Lesbian Ghost Hunter Bath Time Mystery House.

The DVD: First Look Pictures.

Picture: Anamorphic Widescreen. Image overall is not very impressive. The print is quite soft and gauzy, leading to an overall softening in the colors, sharpness details, and some dulled contrast (a real miss when it comes to a shadow concerned horror film). Technically there is also some slight shimmering.

Sound: Dolby Stereo or 5.1 Surround. Optional English or Spanish subtitles. It appears that male actors in the film had to be blatantly overdubbed (chalk that one up to the international production, I guess), but , in addition, there are other dialogue inserts that come across as pretty clumsy. Otherwise it is mostly underwhelming in its mix. Subs are thorough and captionlike, describing expressions, like sighs and hums.

Extras: "Making Of" Featurette (12:07). Usually these made during production featurettes skew a little too much towards puppetlike, nothing but positive, lip service. While the talk is glowing, it at least doesn't come across as contractual and makes for a fairly good piece.

Conclusion: James devotees may want to check out In A Dark Place purely out of curiosity. Spook horror fans will mostly find it to be a limp horror yarn and would be better off rewatching something like the original The Haunting, The Innocents, or even a schlockfest like The Evil. Skip it, rent it, quickly forget it.

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