Studio: Vertical Entertainment
Director: Anthony Byrne
Writer: Anthony Byrne, Natalie Dormer
Producer: Anthony Byrne, Natalie Dormer, Ben Pugh, Adam Morane-Griffiths, Josh Varney
Stars: Natalie Dormer, Ed Skrein, Emily Ratajkowski, Neil Maskell, Jan Bijvoet, James Cosmo, Joely Richardson
A blind pianist becomes caught in a web of political intrigue after her upstairs neighbor is mysteriously murdered.
Natalie Dormer fronts “In Darkness” as Sofia, a blind pianist, precisely the adjective-noun combination for a protagonist typifying the Hitchcockian seed from which initial suspense sprouts. Staying in step with Sir Alfred fashion, Sofia becomes the only uninvolved “witness” to the death of her upstairs neighbor Veronique, an alluringly exotic beauty whose fall from a window may not be the suicide the coroner suspects.
Sofia didn’t see anything of course. She did hear a commotion involving mystery man Marc prior to Veronique’s plunge, though that’s a detail Sofia deliberately keeps from Deputy Inspector Mills, whose investigative instincts detect he has a dead body and a live player caught in an intangibly intricate web.
Sofia doesn’t continue toppling the same dominoes as Cary Grant or Jimmy Stewart. Basic background built, “In Darkness” deviates from the seeming setup of “wrong place, wrong time” murder mystery to detour into Jason Bourne-like intrigue centered on spycraft and political conspiracies.
Not only was Veronique pregnant when she died, she was the daughter of Serbian war criminal Zoran Radic, whose asylum status has caused a stir in London. Veronique didn’t hold a monopoly on hiding secrets. From poison vials to Braille messages burned after reading, Sofia appears involved in skullduggery of her own. As threads thicken with twisty revelations, it comes out that Sofia and Veronique shared more of a connection than an apartment building. And nothing happens by accident whenever Radic’s trusted aide, her duplicitous brother, and a former soldier from Sofia’s past are involved.
Challenged to describe “In Darkness” in one word, that word would be “overdramatic.” A pastel purple glow provides the light while venetian blinds supply the shadows for a sex scene straight out of a Zalman King fever dream. When Sofia showers, she strikes contemplative poses as water cascades across each expository scar and tattoo in slow motion, all while juxtaposed with cuts from Veronique’s similarly revealing autopsy.
Director Anthony Byrne, who co-wrote and co-produced with star Natalie Dormer, stages setups with predictable 007-Lite panache. Of course Sofia holds clandestine meetings on a public park bench with each participant at arm’s length and facing the same direction. Of course the key item creating commotion is a stolen USB drive containing MacGuffin data capable of deposing a dictatorial regime. And of course Sofia’s confrontation with a key antagonist takes place in an art museum. How else would the audience be treated to a villainous monologue fawning over a painting painfully metaphoric about the movie’s theme?
Operatic dramatics eventually take their toll by turning a once-simple premise into a plot too preposterous for its own good. The movie’s 100 minutes feature enough secret identities, unknown agendas, backstabbing, abductions, torture, and left field reveals to fuel a full season of “24.” The bounds of the film’s fantasy bend so far that it wouldn’t be any less believable if Dr. Frankenstein turned out to be Veronique’s true father and Sofia was her undead twin.
No one stays more fascinated with the script than the movie itself. As consumed with over-layering its story as “In Darkness” becomes, there’s no denying that Byrne’s cinematically confident style overpowers practical implausibility. Or perhaps “In Darkness” merely takes elements so far over the top that they come back around to settle in a spot where one cannot determine how much distance was really covered.
Occasionally ostentatious, yet beauteous in their starkness, camera setups are colorful, wide open, and sharply framed. This isn’t cinematography predetermined to win awards for capturing lush landscapes, serene sunsets, or snowy mountainsides. This is straight professional craftsmanship, and the first of several departments clicking on highly workable wavelengths.
Dormer’s dogged determination creates a complete character out of a first act introduction and a third act motivation. Joely Richardson similarly shapes something vaguely interesting out of an anonymous archetype using a fraction of her experience to power her performance. “In Darkness” doesn’t come any closer to forcibly turning Ed Skrein, who plays vanilla villains like Sam Worthington plays humdrum heroes, into a name that audiences are actually interested in. But James Cosmo and Neil Maskell pick up some of Skrein’s slack in strong, albeit limited, roles on the support side.
Muscling through on the appeal of its actors, action, and stalwart sense of structure, “In Darkness” emerges from its overwrought, overwritten funnel as a visually juicy bite of overdramatic intrigue. Under any light of logic, the movie melts like a wicked witch in a rainstorm. The aforementioned Bournes and Bonds have no need to worry, though “In Darkness” maintains a mystery that can momentarily satisfy as arbitrary entertainment.
Review Score: 60