Being an artist is hard in so many ways. Whether you’re a musician, film director, a traditional or a digital artist (I had to put that in there), if it’s not the success that eludes you, it’s often the inspiration. Roger Corman explored the success that eludes struggling artists in A Bucket Of Blood, and how far an artist is willing to go to get that success. Michael Medaglia’s Deep Dark, which follows the same theme, has continued to make the rounds in international festivals, and just recently screened at the Portland Film Festival. Just how far and dark does this desperation go?
Herman Haig (Sean McGrath) is a struggling artist. Despite his best efforts, he’s stuck living with his mother (Mary McDonald-Lewis), unemployed with inferior talent and art. Desperate to get his work seen by local gallery owner Devora Klein (Anne Sorce) (and jealous of rival artist Joel Windle (Tabor Helton)), Herman rents out his Uncle Felix’s (John Nielsen) apartment, in hopes that the claim by his uncle that Herman will receive all the inspiration that he needs rings true. After initially finding no inspiration at all, Herman finds a small note stuck in a hole in the wall: “Relax, I can help.” What follows is success for Herman, but eventually, he learns of the price.
From the opening scene of the film involving a bit of body horror, Deep Dark is one of those films that walks into the surreal, but also throws in some of that morality play that, if done correctly, never gets old. Thankfully, Medaglia is able to do just that, thanks in part to McGrath’s performance. McGrath effectively portrays the desperation and naivety of Herman, never portraying him as an idiot loser, but nevertheless a pathetic loser. Helping McGrath along are Sorce and Welton, who are delightfully scummy in their actions, and in their attempts to schmooze McGrath for his secret. Hearkening back to the seductiveness and authoritative nature of Jeffrey Combs’ performance as The Mold in Motivational Growth, Denise Poirier (of Aeon Flux fame) is that same type of motivator and persuasive voice as the voice of The Hole. So much so, that Herman doesn’t even question what’s going on until much later, when The Hole’s demands aren’t met.
Getting back to the talk of the surreal, Deep Dark tosses in a bit of Cronenberg with a bit of Lynchian dark humour for flavour. Whether it’s the weird pods that The Hole spits out for Herman to use in his work, to Herman making out with The Hole (and the accompanied sounds of Poirier’s responses), it admittedly sounds goofy. But it’s done in such a way that it’s not too far from the television scene in Videodrome, which honestly sounds bizarre until you see it within the context of the film. The same happens here. It also helps that Medaglia is able to make his minuscule budget work with some great shots, utilizing some fish-eye-lensed shots, to split screen, to other compositions. The lighting also plays a big part in selling these shots, as they’re purposely dark, and mixed with the barren, grungy look of the apartment, it’s quite impressive. Throw in some tight editing and a brisk pace, and Deep Dark is pretty solid.
Admittedly, those who aren’t fans of David Lynch or David Cronenberg won’t be easily swayed with Deep Dark. The film’s blending of strange ideas will admittedly have people turned off by the weirdness. Also, by the time the film’s third act rolls around, Deep Dark ends up shifting into more of the Cronenberg territory, with more bloody events that are a stark contrast to the rest of the film. These scenes, while oddly appropriate in a climactic sense, feel out of place with the rest of the film. But the same could be said of Motivational Growth, which takes its own dark turn in the latter half of its runtime.
Nevertheless, Deep Dark is still a solid film. Boasting some excellent acting, a melding of fantastical ideas that work, and great skill behind the camera, Medaglia has crafted a strange fantasy horror film that capably uses an age-old morality tale as its base. While it might be too weird for some people, and the fact that the film’s denouement is in such a stark contrast to the rest of the film that it feels out-of-place, Deep Dark is still wonderfully crafted. It’s definitely worth a viewing for fans of the surreal.