Studio: Momentum Pictures
Director: Tim J. Brown
Writer: Carey Dickson
Producer: Ben Graham, Carey Dickson, Tim J. Brown
Stars: Robin Dunne, Dan Payne, Daniel Cudmore, Brianna Buckmaster, Rebecca Robbins
Following 15 years of estrangement, two brothers reunite for a hunting trip where a mysterious creature challenges their bond.
Rarely, in fact never that I can immediately recall, does a film cut to end credits with my perception of it suddenly submerged in deep confusion. “Devil in the Dark” caught my attention and then lost it, leaving me with the distinct impression that I missed a scene somewhere. Maybe more than one.
“Devil in the Dark” is a tale of two brothers. As boys, seeds of estrangement were fertilized when Clint chummed up to their father through a mutual interest in the outdoors while Adam was comfortable in his room reading comics. The more Clint and their father bonded over firing rifles at deer, the further Adam distanced himself from both men.
Dad died some time ago and it has been 15 years since the brothers last saw each other. Recurring dreams of being lost in the woods as a child have compelled Adam to come home, and Clint suggests a hunting trip to repair their brotherly bond. Adam hesitantly agrees, with his reluctance growing more resolute when two friends tell him the place where he plans to hunt is where a man went mysteriously missing.
Former feuds reheat as Adam and Clint make their way up the mountain, butting heads by day while reminiscing around their campfire at night. Then the brothers discover a burned out clearing before an ominous cave. Adam is certain he has been here before. Clint feels only terrified dread. Whatever demon stalks Adam’s dreams also walks this plateau, and its purpose is to provide the true challenge for Adam and Clint’s relationship.
“Devil in the Dark” puts down roots in a small town setting populated by working class people. Careers here are in construction. Nightlife consists of dive bar pool and a bucket of Bud Lights. There is a blue collar earthiness to the environment that is atypical for the experience in store, yet comes across as relatable, welcoming, and the right tone for capturing what the movie means to do as an intimate drama first and a fright film second.
This melodrama and that horror are not in a hurry to grow. “Devil in the Dark” deliberately develops slowly so various layers can work their ways in. Yet the problem in pacing comes less from time taken for story and characters to form, and more from cuts that come late on shots lingering too long.
Multiple plot beats involve the brothers being separated or someone getting knocked unconscious. Those are uninspired methods of moving two characters where they are needed and returning to that well repeatedly emphasizes how the movie confines itself to a lethargic lull.
An issue with riding a redundant rhythm for 80 consecutive minutes is that suspense cannot be sustained. More importantly in this instance, incentive is lost to invest in understanding the movie’s metaphorical meaning.
“Devil in the Dark” is not really a monster movie. It’s about these two men. The script has something to say about family, about estrangement, about demons in the closet that won’t go away. What that something is I can only guess at however, because the message becomes muddled in a melancholy loop of disjointed dots the climax doesn’t connect.
Just when it seems like one last surprise is ready to drop, it doesn’t. “Devil in the Dark” ends on a disorienting note described as interpretively vague at best and as unsuccessfully executed at worst. While I would certainly entertain the idea that I wasn’t engaged enough to get it, I might counter that the film fails at fully formulating its emotional purpose.
There’s an insult to be made about the working title being “The Plateau,” with the blandness of that name being an accurate reflection of the film’s vanilla flavor. And I’ve indirectly made that jab by not finding a more sophisticated route around structuring that sentence.
It would be disingenuous to baldly suggest “Devil in the Dark” is a poorly made film. It isn’t. It’s the kind of honest indie effort no critic delights in dissuading someone from seeing because its intentions are obviously good. Elements from acting to cinematography are competent and capable, if unremarkable. The overall film just can’t win a recommendation without a solid shot of adrenaline to its atmosphere and that’s a needle that never comes.
From story to style, “Devil in the Dark” reminds me of “Dark Was the Night” (review here). Sadly, I’m simultaneously reminded that “Dark Was the Night” is a more completely realized creature feature combined with character study, with an entertainment quotient to match its serious drama, neither of which “Devil in the Dark” can get all the way off the ground.
Review Score: 45