One of the hardest tasks horror filmmakers can tackle these days is making a movie about flesh-eating undead monsters that doesn’t feel stale or derivative. The genre itself is far from dead, but it’s been a while since we’ve seen a truly original zombie flick. However, against all odds, Justin P. Lange managed to craft an emotionally complex undead thriller with The Dark, based on Lange’s previous work on a homonymous short film.
The Dark stars Nadia Alexander as Mina, a young girl who stalks an isolated forest as a flesh-eating ghoul. After murdering a man as he attempted to flee from the authorities, Mina finds Alex (Toby Nichols), a traumatized blind boy hidden away in the man’s car. An unlikely friendship ensues as they both try and come to terms with their abusive pasts, though Alex’s presence starts to attracted unwanted attention.
Although the premise is interesting enough, what follows is an unexpectedly human tale concerning the healing power of affection and the relativity of monsters. While there is a surprising amount of violence and more than a few legitimately intense sequences, The Dark really shines during the warmer, more introspective moments shared by our leads.
Speaking of which, both Alexander and Nichols did a phenomenal job of selling their awful predicaments, and their reactions really helped make the film more believable. Bad casting could easily have broken this movie, considering how most of the runtime is spent on the interaction between the two young main characters, but the filmmakers did a phenomenal job of casting the right actors for these roles.
Sadly, the film stumbles in the pacing department, with a couple of scenes dragging on for way too long, and a conclusion that feels almost anticlimactic considering the emotional stakes established earlier in the picture. The movie also doesn’t make a point of explaining how the more fantastical elements of this world work. While none of these factors necessarily ruin the movie, it’s unfortunate that the experience is just a few minor tweaks away from greatness.
That being said, The Dark is still consistently entertaining, with atmospheric visuals and a haunting soundtrack. The cinematography isn’t exactly Oscar-worthy, but it does a great job of conveying the isolation of our lead characters and is at its best when depicting the eerie forested backdrops. This quality extends to the production value in general, as I was never convinced that this was a low-budget endeavor.
Ultimately, The Dark doesn’t quite reach the artistic heights that it aspires to, with an experience that could have benefited from a tighter script and some more energetic editing, but it’s still a successfully unique zombie movie. The slower nature of the flick may not be to everyone’s liking, but the film will definitely appeal to fans of intelligent supernatural thrillers and unconventional dramas alike. Potential viewers should just be prepared for an intensely emotional ride.