Remember that college professor who gave you a simple piece of advice that changed the course of your whole career?
Yeah — neither do I. Luckily for us, filmmaker Justin P. Lange had just that professor at Columbia University. During the interview Lange said that his professor told him that he needed to “break out of the stuff he had been doing”. A self-described “wuss” who was terrified of horror movies knew what he had to do next.
Our win. The 18th Annual Tribeca Film Festival premiered Lange’s The Dark as part of its Midnight section last week. Though billed as a horror film, it is so much more.
Yes, our protagonist, Mina (an exceptional Nadia Alexander — 2017 TFF Best Actress winner) is technically a zombie when we meet her, but don’t let her ghoulish appearance fool you. She will prove to be the most human character in this darkly written, intimately shot and thoughtfully told narrative. I was reminded of the best of Guillermo del Toro, where we root for the creatures, and the authority figures are the real monsters. Alexander’s Mina is that creature and she will hold your rapt attention in every frame with her ferocity and unexpected tenderness.
After offing and dining on an intruder, Mina discovers a blind teenage boy (Toby Nichols) hidden in the back of the man’s car. Nichols gives us beautifully balanced moments of quiet and fury — with a healthy dose of Stockholm Syndrome. The reason for his blindness will reveal one of the true monsters of this film, though Lange is smart enough to never delve too deeply into that tale. Instead he focuses on the growing relationship between an undead girl with unspeakable past horrors of her own and this broken boy.
Klemens Hufnagl’s camera work produces some stunning images from a true sense of lost in the woods to a vile moment shot so tightly it will make you want to look away.
In a tight 94 minutes the film is perfectly paced, with just the right amount of scares and startles to keep a genre fan on their toes. The real success of this film though is the central relationship, and Mina’s final sacrifice — that thing that makes us, well, human.