Shot on location in Colombia, Lluís Quílez’s ghostly thriller Out of the Dark features some truly striking photography and an Old Testament sense of right and wrong. It falls into the horror sub-genre of white people moving in on land where they’re not very welcome and does so in a predictable manner. After an ominous prologue, Sarah (Julia Stiles) and Paul (Scott Speedman) move into their new home in Colombia with their young daughter Hannah. Sarah’s there to take over her father’s paper mill, the area’s proud and joy. While she learns the ropes, Paul stays home and works on his illustrations.
He may be a good artist but he’s not very good at watching Hannah, so she winds up wandering away into the adjacent jungle twice times in one day. Here’s where one of the biggest problems of the film rears its obnoxious head: the music beats every times a tense moment happens are WAY overdone. I always hate the screeching strings that accompany jump scares in most contemporary horror and Out of the Dark has some of the most aggressive.
The more Hannah wanders off, apparitions of bandaged, wheezing children begin to appear on the outskirts of their home and even in a local marketplace. With their family threatened, Sarah begins investigating the mystery behind these children. From here Out of the Dark builds up its suspense slowly and holds our attention mainly through the dense production design and photography. There’s really nothing interesting or emotional going on in the script (which Quílez co-wrote with the team behind Carriers) and not all of it makes sense. Julia Stiles (who I’ve never been a huge fan of) does a decent job with the material given her. Paul is a skeptic when it comes to the local legends, so he remains passive through much of the film, leaving it up to Sarah to save their daughter. Sarah’s journey is a fairly predictable one, but the lush production designs really do grip us by the balls.
The film does have something to say about hubris and how conquistadors (in this case white people) feel the need to civilize local populations (whether they want to be or not). Like most of the story, this message is delivered in a foreseeable way, hitting beats that harken back to films like The Devil’s Backbone and The Orphanage. Despite some remarkable photography and palpable atmosphere, the film would’ve benefited greatly by diverging from the predictable and charting its own path through the jungle.
Out of the Dark is now available on VOD and in select theaters.