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Lulu Wang (The Farewell)
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Tribeca 2018: The Dark

by Jason Adams

The creepy housekeeper in Shirley Jackson's classic The Haunting of Hill House gives an ominous warning to her newly arrived guests at that titular mansion - that nobody's coming to save them, not "in the night, in the dark." Turns out she was right! (Creepy housekeepers are always right in the movies.) It's a warning that's echoed across scary storytelling ever since, and there's an echo of it in the title for the Tribeca creeper The Dark, premiering tonight at the fest...

I wish there were fewer echoes. What is this, the tenth horror film titled The Dark? It's a shame that The Dark is saddled with such a generic title, because the film itself is not generic - it borrows liberally from a few different sources (I thought mainly of Let the Right One In, although there's also a Twilight vibe, albeit Twilight For Psychotics) but it cobbles together a pretty surprising concoction, inverting genre cliches to its emotional benefit, like its The Evil Dead directed by Sofia Coppola. Maybe they should have titled it The Emo Dead?

Anyway for a film called The Dark, it does indeed go pretty dark. It eventually turns into the story of a Blonde-Redhead-loving girl (played by Nadia Alexander, who won Best Actress at last year's Tribeca exploring some similarly unsettling teen themes in Blame) cursed by horrible violence, but a lot of its interest and curiosity is in the twisted path it takes to find that place, and then un-do it once it's done - I'd wager to guess that writer-director Justin P. Lange really admires, as well he should, the knotty reveals of Pascal Laugier's masterpiece Martyrs because there's a whiff of that construction here. You really don't know where The Dark is going for a good while. To its benefit. It unravels strangely. 

Tonally it's all over the place - it's an old-fashioned Grimm's Fairy Tale one minute, a tween slasher the next, and there are moments of hee-haw local yokel humor that recall the groaniest moments of low-budget 70s horror a la The Town That Dreaded Sundown. But they don't derail the thing because its central relationship between that cursed girl and the cute damaged boy she's eyeing (Toby Nichols, all soft hair and visible scarring) is tender and low-key in the right ways, and the film remains genuinely devoted to unraveling their cycles of abuse even amid all of the axe murder.

The Dark plays Tribeca on Saturday 4/21 (7:45 PM), Sunday 4/22 (9:15 PM), Monday 4/23 (8:45 PM), and Tuesday 4/24 (9:15 PM)

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