Wednesday, November 29, 2023

In short: Dark Stories (2020)

This five tale anthology movie is actually a compilation of episodes from a French horror anthology TV show.

In the framing narrative, a woman (Kristanna Loken) staves off death by a particularly crappy looking killer doll by telling the film’s tales until the inevitable “twist” happens. To give the film its due, it’s not “they were dead all along”.

The stories, particularly the first three, tend to have an unfortunate tendency to that kind of “humour” I can’t think about without the quotation marks; they’re also mostly lacking in originality or a decent effects budget.

The first three tales, directed by Guillaume Lubrano, are all, except for the “jokes”, pretty bland and inoffensive stuff, professionally but personality-free in their direction, and perfectly watchable. In the first, monsters the film calls “ghouls” for some reason, draw people into paintings, and supposed hilarity ensues. In the second, a jogger encounters ghosts in a public park and is murdered by a serial killer (spoiler, I guess), the ghosts of earlier victims trying to warn her in the least useful way. Tale number three is some godawful business about a guy who wakes up undead and saves his girlfriend while literally falling to pieces.

Tale number four and five, both directed by François Descraques, are both quite a bit more interesting. One features the travails of a woman who either suffers from sleep paralysis or is haunted by a djinn. This one actually features some effective – if not original - scenes of dream-based horror, flows well to its downer ending and needless shock after, and features some more than decent characterisation to boot.

The final tale, in which the series splurged for Dominique Pinon, is even better. It features Pinon as a farmer who believes that aliens have told him he is the messiah, and the world is going to end soon. He may not be crazy. This one’s actually pretty great, funny (not “funny”) in a dark way as well as demonstrating a degree of imagination in how it uses the messianic elements of UFO lore. It also looks quite a bit better than Lubrano’s tales, and is certainly directed with much more spirit and style.

Which makes this a very mixed anthology. Two great tales, one terrible one, and two blandly boring ones make…a movie that’s made for fast forwarding to the good parts.

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