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Dark, The

Sony Pictures // R // April 11, 2006
List Price: $24.96 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by David Cornelius | posted April 21, 2006 | E-mail the Author
And now, a handy real estate tip from your old pal Sean Bean: When buying property, try to avoid creepy houses on the moors next to cliffs where a community once leapt to their deaths in a mass suicide ritual. That one might just be a wee more important than the old chestnut about "location, location, location."

In "The Dark," adapted from the novel "Sheep" by Simon Maginn (I can see why they changed the title), Bean plays James, a husky Welsh sheep farmer who welcomes a visit from his ex-wife Adèle (Maria Bello) and their daughter Sarah (Sophie Stuckey). It seems that Adèle and Sarah have been fighting lately - flashbacks reveal more as the story unfolds - and Sarah is hoping that living with dad will fix things. But nobody told them about the creepy house and the spooky cliff and the ghosts and nightmares and such.

The film, adapted by Stephen Massicotte and directed by John Fawcett ("Ginger Snaps"), takes some time finding its footing, as early scenes suggest a story that's not really sure where it's going. We get plenty of dreams-within-dreams, jump-scares, and false-boos (all with the requisite overanxious music stings), and one sequence involving a herd of sheep leaping to their doom is a jaw-dropper, but for a while, there's just not much of anything else.

Stick with it, though, and you'll be rewarded with a stirring, old fashioned ghost yarn. Things pick up once Adèle visits the local library, and she's told how "Welsh mythology is full of that sort of thing, the living and the dead crossing back and forth." We learn about something called Annwn, and how a local father long ago hoped to bring his daughter back from death by exchanging some fresh lives. Anybody who's read their Stephen King knows how things don't always come back as wanted. You see where this is going.

"The Dark" is one of those rare horror films that actually improves as it moves forward. Most spook stories run out of gas as their premise wears out, but "The Dark" relies so much on character development and quiet chills that the frights only build, not diminish. Fawcett is correct in wanting his film to be more of a mood piece than a shocker; it's the dark tone that makes the film successful in terms of scares.

The film does stumble when it gets louder - Bean and Bello are required to hand in the occasional bout of histrionics, when their characters are much more effective when dealing in subtleties; the ghostly visions aren't as impressive whenever Fawcett tries to play it big - but when it works, it works so well that these off points can be given a pass.

The DVD

Video


The anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) image is as impressive as one would expect. The transfer handles the darks quite well, and the Welsh countryside looks lovely.

Audio

The 5.1 Dolby Digital track is equally commendable, but beware: the film relies so heavily on quiet moments quickly followed by booming loud stings. Your sound system will get quite the workout, but it's not the best mix for when you're trying to watch late at night and people are sleeping in the other room. You may find yourself constantly adjusting the volume. Optional English and French subtitles are provided.

Extras

I loathe the concept of the alternate ending, as it seems to undermine the effectiveness of the actual story - if the makers couldn't settle on a proper finale, how can we accept the "proper" ending? Here, we get a brief alternate finale; it's a bit shorter and leaves things a bit more up in the air, but lacks the punch of the official ending. Annoyingly, the ending is only a few minutes long, but the entire closing credits are tacked on to this feature, dragging the length into the twelve-minute range. Presented in anamorphic widescreen.

Also included is an assortment of trailers for other Sony releases. All are presented in widescreen format; some are enhanced, others are not. They're all for the studio's horror releases… except, oddly enough, the last one, which is for "Capote." Huh.

Final Thoughts

"The Dark" is the kind of film for people who like their horror stories chilly and low key. Give it some time, and it'll work itself over on you. Recommended.
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