I love me my devil movies, I go on and on about the subtlety of satanic suspense. I believe the idea of the devil has a grip on the collective subconscious that is deeper than any vampire or recreated monster. The devil is also a very convenient scapegoat for the all-too-real horrors that impose themselves into daily life.
The best thing about …In the Dark is that the demonic horror creeps in through what could very well be horrific real world occurrences. The action isn’t relegated to dark corners, cars drive happily by in the gleam of sunlight and most offices have at most an amber view. Nurse Joan Mills (Catherine Cobb Ryan) and her daughter Bethany (Grace Folsom) are living in a haunted house on a regular block in Brooklyn. It soon becomes apparent that it’s not the house that’s haunted, it’s Bethany. She’s possessed.
Of all the subgenres of satanic horror, my least favorite is the most filmed, exorcism. It’s probably because it’s such an overexposed subject that I normally roll my eyes every time someone gets ready to spin their head. Even the witches of Salem on WGN and the monster squad on Showtime’s Penny Dreadful cast out some demons. Director David Spaltro swaps clichés with theories and special effects calisthenics with possibilities. He knows when to pull away and let the audience make up its own mind how far they want to take it.
…In the Dark is a character driven movie. The horror is introduced early and then put on the side to ease back into the picture. One of the best ways to build suspense is by holding it off, hopefully long enough to distract the viewer from the idea that they are watching a horror movie. The characters here are trying to understand the hauntings from a psychological perspective before they jump to parapsychological conclusions.
What is possession and what is mental illness? To a pragmatic atheist, who might feel that any belief in an imaginary friend is a neurological disorder, all the answers would like in science and anyone who imposes religion is an enabler. To the skeptical psychiatrist, there is more to reality than science has uncovered. Dr. Lois Kearne (Fiona Horrigan) has very strict guidelines as to what is natural and what is supernatural. But she only applies these because she really needs to find one more case. She is haunted and addicted. She needs confirmation at the same time she wants to deny every case that could muddy the findings.
One of the things that make Veronica Carpenter (Lynn Justinger) so real is her voice. It’s terrible, it’s cloying and nasal and you’d be ordering the check during appetizers on a blind date. But it’s that annoying note that gives it resonance. That is one of the first things screen actors stamp down, any timbre that might leave an aftertaste. But you get used to it like you do any acquaintance and it never sounds like a put on like on Fargo.
You can see that Spaltro is trying to veer as clear of The Exorcist as possible, though I don’t know what might have possessed him to do that, but the pull is too great. There are too many shared experiences caught in the seminal film that it’s tough to avoid. Cinematographer Gus Sacks evokes the atmosphere of The X-Files, but informs it with the dark paintings that Bethany is experimenting with.
There are no major effects like spinning heads or ceiling crawling. The scars look like they would be painful, but Spaltro doesn’t waste effects for effects sake, once we acknowledge something as painful, he uses that to bring suspense to anticipated pain without having to do anything else but point out a couple wrong steps.
I know Bethany called the demon to her while she was near death, but the film unleashes the presence in very first scene, where she is painting. Artists often go into altered states while they are so involved in what they’re doing. It’s fun to let go of the craft and slide on the gift, even when it takes you dark places. A demon can be invoked by using a sigil, a symbolic representation of the dark desire. Spaltro leaves enough room to fill in the blanks. Spaltro doesn’t have a problem with leaving unfilled blanks, his last movie was called Things I Don’t Understand and covered death and the afterlife, similar territory.
Part of the fun of demonic thrillers is trying to figure out what comes next. I was sure that Bethany subconsciously recreated a sigil while painting until the explanation came through. The movie’s over and I’m still not sure I’m wrong.
… In The Dark is a very good indie horror entry that benefits from its leisurely pace.