Studio: Dark Sky Films
Director: Conor McMahon
Writer: Conor McMahon, Demian Fox
Producer: Greg Newman, Kate McColgan, Conor McMahon, Michael Lavelle
Stars: Niamh Algar, Stephen Cromwell, Gerry O’Brien, Ged Murray
A couple stranded in the Irish countryside must fend off a supernatural creature that can only exist in the darkness.
“From the Dark” may be the beneficiary of praise it might not otherwise garner simply for falling in my review queue immediately after “Roadside” (review here), a thriller with a similar starting point of a young couple stranded on a desolate country road. Both films are middling movies with mixed reviews, likely to evaporate from public consciousness in a year’s time. But with the generic, minimal effort exercise in mediocrity that is “Roadside” still fresh in my mind, I was in a better position to recognize the commitment writer/director Conor McMahan puts into his lean chiller “From the Dark,” even if its ultimate impact borders on underwhelming.
Immediately, Mark and Sarah are a cute enough couple. Sarah playfully teases Mark about a close-shorn haircut making him look like a hooligan. Mark endears himself to a few locals using an index finger salute taught to him by his girlfriend. Not an earth-shaking introduction by any means. But again, remembering back a few hours to “Roadside” burning through the same scene by presenting its core couple as a constantly complaining whiner and a letch cheating on his pregnant wife, the light camaraderie between Mark and Sarah is something to be on board with, no matter how meager.
Mark does not remain entirely affable, however. With their car spinning its wheels in remote road mud and the sun setting in the distance, a surliness bug bites the boy as he barks at his girl to stay put while he searches for help. What Mark finds instead is a recently unearthed creature that appears vampiric in nature. It can be destroyed by light, but that makes the bog beast no less fearsome as the couple is forced to fight for survival by holing up in a deserted farmhouse nearby.
“From the Dark” also brings to mind the 2013 feature “In Fear” (review here), another movie about a stranded young couple stalked from the shadows in remote Irish countryside. Surprisingly, “From the Dark” is the most believable of the heretofore-mentioned movie trio, even though it features a supernatural creature while the other two deal in real-world threats. This is thanks to “From the Dark” taking the time to motivate its characters somewhat sensibly, and treating its implausible scenario with sincerity that the other films do not possess.
The 90-minute runtime unfolds slowly, although that long wick tapers at a natural pace befitting the quiet country setting and smoldering tone. The film is certainly not in a rush, yet it doesn’t drag either, despite having just two primary actors basically stalked by one monster for the duration. Impatient viewers are certain to feel the burn without realizing that “From the Dark” never really kills time or struggles to fill it, McMahon merely chooses to occupy that space gradually.
Sparsely sprinkled jump scares generally aren’t of the cheap variety. More than once the camera plays the trick of a flickering light flash briefly revealing a shambling shape in background shadows, except it comes off as well-positioned each time. More interested in creeping chills than gotcha boos, director Conor McMahon and cinematographer Michael Lavelle never let scaled-down production design stand in the way of crafty camerawork making the most of unsettling atmosphere.
McMahon and Lavelle also employ a creature-cam consisting of green-tinted night vision filtered through a star effect. Before bemoaning the use of a poor man’s “Predator” POV, consider precisely the fact that the movie is not required to do this. Some may choose to read such an effect as cheaply clichéd, while what it actually shows are filmmakers mustering determination to add production value wherever possible.
Consider also a trio of sequences involving a shallow water pit where three of the film’s four characters are forcibly dunked. A lesser production with intentions of only phoning it in would never go through the trouble of tending to a pool and dipping three actors in it at night. The final product’s capacity to provide entertainment value may be a matter of debate. That “From the Dark” demonstrates itself as a low-budget indie determined to stretch each euro and go the extra meter to make a worthwhile movie is far less of a question.
There would be little use arguing with opinions of “nothing new” or “slow moving.” “From the Dark” is not a firestarter poised to ignite the horror world in flames and it is true that dedicated film fans have seen this sort of creature feature before in various forms. Still, looked at through the lens of how the same setup can be muddled into a truly limp thriller genuinely maddening in its ability to bore and annoy, “From the Dark” earns some modicum of leniency for its shortcomings through force of effort from cast and crew. Take a look at the similarly-styled “Roadside” or “In Fear” beforehand and see exactly how “From the Dark” excels at eeriness and execution in comparison.
Review Score: 65