Studio: IFC Midnight
Director: Marina de Van
Writer: Marina de Van
Producer: Patrick Sobelman, Jean-Luc Ormieres
Stars: Missy Keating, Marcella Plunkett, Padraic Delaney, Catherine Walker, Richard Dormer, Charlotte Flyvholm, Stephen Wall
After surviving a massacre that hills her abusive parents, a young girl struggles to adjust to normalcy with a new family.
All terrifying things are not created equal. Child abuse is risqué subject matter for a thriller and has its work cut out for it when attempting to entertain as a horror film. Pure entertainment is not a high priority on the agenda for “Dark Touch,” however. Yet whatever does occupy that top spot on the movie’s to-do list is replaced by a question mark from the audience’s perspective. “Dark Touch” wants to be uncomfortable and disturbing with its themes, although the final takeaway and effect that it intends to accomplish are left languishing in ambiguity.
A young Irish lass whose name is spelled as Niamh, but is pronounced phonetically as Neve, escapes in the rain to a nearby house where the neighbors find the bruised and battered girl in hysterics with her tongue having been bitten. Her parents arrive to claim their daughter and appear as confused as anyone about how Neve came to be injured. Neve appears to suffer from both physical and sexual abuse at the hands of her mother and father, but she escapes her living hell on a night when telekinetic abilities uncontrollably manifest themselves and turn her family’s home upside down.
The damage is horrific enough for the police to assume that a gang of violent murderers must be responsible for the gruesome deaths of Neve’s family. Neve moves in with the kindly neighbors from before as they unknowingly adopt a nightmare for themselves. Neve’s ongoing struggle to adjust to a normal life continues to bring out the worst in her extraordinary powers, creating terror for everyone involved.
Neve is a frustrating character because the audience is not led down a clear path of what to think about her. Angry parents and unbuckled belts behind closed doors foster initial sympathy for the poor girl’s plight. Then “Dark Touch” later infers that everything may not be as it seems and alternate interpretations of events and imagery could be warranted.
Anytime a confused and abused girl demonstrates telekinesis in fiction, comparisons to Carrie White are going to be inevitable. It is a comparison that also makes it easier to see why Neve is less successful as a similar character.
Whereas Carrie earned the audience’s compassion for being met with derision at home and at school, all while doing everything she could to remain resilient and to occupy the life of a regular teenager, Neve never even attempts adapting to normalcy. She also does not suffer the same level of constant peer insults that Carrie endured daily and her new home environment is a step up from both her previous life and Carrie’s domineering mother.
Neve’s classmates try recruiting her into a doll playing session at a birthday party. The foster parents do everything they can to welcome the girl into family activities with their other two children. Neve seems met by affection and acceptance at every turn, yet she commits herself to remaining withdrawn and forlorn. She rarely responds when she is spoken to. She walks about with a perpetual expression of parted lips and a line between her eyebrows. And she misreads everyone’s kind intentions as they fumble to understand what it is they are doing that upsets her so much.
That initial sympathy for the girl’s condition swirls clockwise down a drain as she continually refuses any efforts at aiding her situation. Her tortured behavior brings the character to a level of annoyance that subverts any design the script may have to win the viewer to her side. Neve is portrayed as such a singular note empty vessel that continuing to care about her at all is a demand that is never justified.
“Dark Touch” then plunges into an even darker hole for a finale that is heavy on thematic symbolism, yet light on grounded rationalization. The story takes Neve to places that cast still more shadows of doubt over her motivations while muddling the film’s intentions for exactly what it is that writer/director Marina de Van wishes to convey. Unless the goal was for the audience to feel the same confused abandonment as a troubled orphan, “Dark Touch” misses as a psychological thriller with its slow to gel purpose and a lead character that is just not compelling.
Review Score: 55