In the calm rural scenery of Ireland’s County Offaly, a farmer goes about his business under the wide skies, cutting and stacking peat when he uncovers something, a flat stone which when removed reveals a chamber beneath. Removing it and peering into the shadows, he glimpses a hand, ancient, mummified, preserved in the slowly decaying vegetation.
Driving through the country lanes, Sarah and Mark are seeking the holiday cottage they have booked as they argue over whether to trust his navigation skills or rely on their satnav which he is convinced is leading them astray. The point is rendered moot when the mud on the track renders them immobile.
The sun setting, Mark sets off across the fields in search of help, hoping a local farmer may have equipment to pull them free. He spots a farmhouse, the lights burning upstairs yet apparently deserted, but downstairs he finds a man, injured, disoriented, slipping in and out of consciousness. Returning to the car, he tells Sarah he’s found someone who needs help more than they do, but back at the farmhouse, now full dark, the man has turned aggressive, attacking Mark and badly mauling his leg.
Written and directed by Stitches’ Conor McMahon, the simple setup of From the Dark is familiar to any horror fan, the isolation of the country, an unfamiliar location, the sense of helplessness and vulnerability. Coupled with the minimal soundtrack and the often rambling dialogue it approximates some of the hallmarks of found footage though fortunately not the camera style, although the narrative is similarly sparse.
A one-trick pony which spends most of its running time playing “now you see me, now you don’t,” the creature is wisely – and appropriately, considering its apparent vampiric nature – kept in the dark, its presence more effectively indicated by sound, though seen up close the makeup of Mark’s injured leg is less convincing.
As Sarah and Mark, Niamh Algar and Stephen Cromwell are certainly adequate but done no favours by the minimalist script, unable to produce anything other than generic emotion from the repeating sequence of diminishing returns as they find new light sources then lose them as they shift from one shadowy part of the farmhouse to another.
Cinematographer Michael Lavelle has handled the difficult lighting requirements well, the extended twilight sequence and the shading of the different parts of the house and the outbuildings as well as the surrounding countryside given sufficient illumination to discern the environment but not to differentiate shape with only the crucial elements directly lit when required.
For the brief “creature vision” shots, the effect is similar to that of the Bioraptors of M6-117, the “dazzle” experienced matching that when Riddick’s goggles are removed, but this only serves to remind that Pitch Black did monsters in the dark far better in addition to the unavoidable fact Dog Soldiers also did farmhouse under siege far better. While perhaps unfair comparisons considering the budgetary discrepancies, it is in the ideas that From the Dark remains eclipsed.