It’s been a bad year for the Anderson family of Blue Hill County, Pennsylvannia, a year of fruitless searching since the afternoon of November 17th, 1982, when Olivia and Ray arrived home to find the front door open and that their eight-year-old daughter Maisie was missing with indications that she had been taken by an intruder.
A memorial held to mark the anniversary and keep her memory alive in the community, the extended family retreat to be together over pizza and keep their spirits up, but it is difficult to dispel the hopelessness and sense of futility; seeing strange lights in the pine trees behind their property, Ray uses it as an excuse to get some air but the menfolk elect to join him on his exploration of the forest.
Ray is not the only one to have been disturbed by the sight, the forest coming alive as flocks of birds flee whatever is among them, the lights returning and sweeping across the treeline, gravity itself momentarily forgetting its hold on them, as back at the house Olivia and her sister Arlene are assailed by noises from outside and above.
The second feature from writer/director Carl Strathie, Dark Encounter could not be more different from his debut Solis, focused on one character in a single confined location; though the sense of desperation remains, it is carried by a strong ensemble led by The Sisterhood of Night‘s Laura Fraser, The Disappointments Room‘s Mel Raido, Prevenge‘s Alice Lowe and Stormhouse‘s Grant Masters as Olivia, Ray, Arlene and Maisie’s uncle Deputy Sherriff Kenneth Burroughs.
Capturing a sense of both the period and the location, the visual and thematic influences on Dark Encounter are clear and unapologetic: the sense of wonder and menace of Close Encounter of the Third Kind and The X-Files in the early stages before a sudden swerve to the cosmic perspective of Contact and Interstellar’s tesseract, though that sudden change of narrative direction is both unexpected and problematic.
Dark Encounter is not the film the viewer expects it to be, and while it is to be praised that it breaks from the predictable and the final twenty minutes are bravely carried without dialogue almost entirely by David Stone Hamilton’s soundtrack and Fraser’s powerful emotion, rather than offering an explanation it instead demands the question of why beings of such power would engage in such unproductive behaviour, a conclusion more infuriating than satisfying.
Dark Encounter is available now on DVD and Amazon Prime Video