Thursday, April 16, 2015

From the Dark (2014)

Warning: Spoilers, unavoidable, etc.

Couple Sarah (Niamh Algar) and Mark (Stephen Cromwell) are out on a trip to the country. As it goes in the movies, their car breaks down in the middle of a field road, and city boy Mark trudges to the closest farmhouse to get help. Alas, the inhabitant (Gerry O’Brien) of said farm seems to be in need of help himself, for he has a bite wound on his neck and seems barely conscious. Even if the audience didn’t already know that he was bitten by something humanoid but not human while digging, we’d knew something was up. Mark however just gets back to Sarah and brings her to the farmhouse where they are promptly attacked by the farmer who now acts a bit like a monster; and night has broken as well.

Worse yet, the creature (Ged Murray) that bit the farmer is still around too, and it is even more dangerous than its spawn. The only things our heroes have going for them to survive the night are the creatures’ heavy allergic reactions against light and Sarah’s quickly blooming survival skills.

On paper Conor McMahon’s Irish low budget monster movie From the Dark doesn’t sound all that exciting. Even infrequent horror movie watchers will have seen the set-up or one a lot like it a million times or more before, and the zombie/vampire hybrid nature of its monsters doesn’t exactly come with the approval of the originality fairy. Consequently, the film is a very simple tale. However, it’s a very simple tale told exceedingly well, impeccably paced, with a fine full body final girl performance by Niamh Algar and not a dull second on screen.

I’ll always admire an economically told horror film, and there’s no fat at all in From the Dark’s plot, no distractions, no moments of down-time where they don’t belong. There’s also never that moment when a film stops to turn to the audience and tell it, that yes, this is more than a tale about a woman and a soon to be dead man fighting a couple of creatures as if it were ashamed of itself. That doesn’t mean there’s no emotional core to the story, or there’s nothing going on subtextually, but as the rest of the plot, these things are built on as little as a bit of dialogue at the beginning of the film and a few small gestures and moments later on, with no grand gestures needed or wanted where the small ones do very well. Even better these are exactly the right bits of dialogue and the right gestures, so they fit perfectly to provide the emotional core the film needs.

That’s something the film manages in other respects too: on paper, the suspense scenes are working on a very small scale (this is after all a film taking place in a farmhouse, a barn, and the surrounding fields) and are exceedingly simple. Yet in practice, they become increasingly tense and exciting the longer the film goes on and the smaller Sarah’s places of safety become, as wonderfully embodied through the increasingly improvised and fragile light sources she uses to keep her safe and the way every good plan doesn’t quite work out for her (without the film needing to play the stupid horror movie character card).

Once From the Dark reached its final stretch, I found myself completely involved in Sarah’s fight against the monster, and really didn’t want to see her die or become a monster herself. This, I think, is the greatest compliment you can make a low budget movie this highly concentrated on classic suspense, and McMahon’s film absolutely deserves it.

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