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The Dark

The people who make horror movies are among the laziest people in the film industry. As with all generalizations, there are exceptions to this statement — increasingly, though, there are fewer and fewer scare flicks at which you can point a finger and say, "Ah yes, that was original and clever and scared the everlovin' crap out of me." Instead of wracking their brains for something fresh to bring to the genre, producers continually parcel out cash for scripts that are nothing more than obvious retreads of better films, written to predictable templates — the haunted house movie, the teen slasher flick, the M. Night Shyamalan twist-ending endeavor. Filmmakers in Asia, on the other hand, have gone in a completely different direction, with directors like Fei Kujiwara, Takeshi Miike, Hideo Nakata, Ahn Byung-Ki and Kinji Fukasaku creating an entirely new genre unto themselves — Asian Extreme Cinema. These films are creepier, darker, and more violent than American horror fare, which has mainly devolved into trite PG-13 porridge dished up for 12 to 17-year-olds. Westerners aren't the only ones eager to cash in on trends, though, and some of the most popular Asian horror films have quickly become remade, ripped off, and sequel'd up the wazoo, with carbon copies of Ringu, Ju-On, and The Eye trotted out for seemingly insatiable Asian-horror buffs. Naturally, the tropes employed in these pictures have made their way across the Pacific, first with flat-out remakes and then in the inevitable follow-up films that plod along the trail blazed by those with more original ideas.

Such a film is The Dark (2005), a reasonably well-directed horror film starring two very talented actors that offers absolutely nothing of substance that hasn't been lifted wholesale from other films before it. Maria Bello stars as Adele, who brings her pre-teen daughter to visit the girl's father James (Sean Bean) in Wales, where he's purchased the requisite enormous, creepy house perched on a seaside cliff in the middle of nowhere. The daughter, Sarah (Sophie Stuckey), is having serious pre-teen anger issues with Mom, adores Daddy, and, as with kids in films such as these, has no misgivings about poking around in the house's creepy attic. There is, naturally, a creepy handyman named Dafydd (Maurice Roeves) who's on hand mainly to play Welsh Exposition Man and explain Celtic folklore after Sarah tumbles into the sea and disappears. Dad sets off with a search party, assuming his daughter is dead when she isn't found, but Mom stumbles across … wait for it … a creepy little girl of about the same age as her daughter. After the always-productive search through the local library's collection of old newspapers and some gigantic leaps of logic, Adele figures out that the little girl must be taken to the land of the dead and swapped for her own child.

Director John Fawcett (Ginger Snaps) does what he can with the little he has to work with but, unfortunately, that means trowling layer upon layer of manufactured suspense on top of The Dark's flimsy, derivative plot. Scenes of "excitement" are stretched well beyond the point at which the viewer has lost interest, and scares are created through quick editing, sudden changes in a scene's lighting, and heavy-handed music cues. Filmed on the Isle of Man, the cinematography by Christian Sebalt is lovely, and both Bello and Bean couldn't be bad if they tried. But there's simply nothing of interest to watch here, other than the gorgeous Welsh coastline. And transposing Welsh mythology with the now-familiar soaking-wet-Japanese-demon-girl plot doesn't make it any more original — it just makes it yet another unscary horror picture that couldn't be bothered to come up with anything new. Sony's DVD release of The Dark offers a very good, very clean anamorphic transfer (1.85:1), making the most of Sebalt's moody, atmospheric cinematography. The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio (with optional English or French subtitles) is also quite good, offering a nice showcase for Edmund Butt's regal score. The only extra is a shorter but more ambiguous alternate ending. Keep-case.
—Dawn Taylor

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