“Devil’s Den sure has its share of scary stories. I tell you what, you know the thing I like about those stories? It’s not me up in those woods running for my life.” The attendant at the gas farm relishes his role as harbinger of doom for the unwary traveller, winding up the twitchy man who has stopped to fill up and ask for directions. What he doesn’t realise is that there is a reason the man is twitchy and wishing to be on his way with haste.
There is a manhunt on for Josef Hofer (The Counterfeiters‘ Karl Markovics), suspected of kidnapping a blind teenage boy, Alex Whitman; armed and dangerous, Hofer is not prepared for what he ultimately finds in the wooded area of Devil’s Den in the apparently abandoned house at the end of the country road, something not quite human, filled with rage and hunger…
Written and directed by Justin P Lange, The Dark is his debut feature, starring Iron Fist‘s Toby Nichols as Alex and Seven Seconds‘ Nadia Alexander as Mina, the semi-human creature who hunts the woods and becomes Alex’s friend and protector, the two of them bound together by the pain of the past and the rejection they have experienced.
An expansion of Lange’s 2013 short of the same name, in its depiction of two abused outcasts, one with uncontrollable primal urges, The Dark recalls Tomas Alfredson’s Let the Right One In and Robert Beaucage’s more obscure Spike, both released in 2008, but while it is heavy on atmosphere the narrative is slight, insufficiently developed to fill the wider canvas of a feature.
Nichols and Alexander are both good in their difficult roles, learning to overcome their conditioned response to run and distrust others, but some of the other performers are less adept, though some are given unforgivingly stupid roles to enact; at one point, having witnessed his father and his uncle being slaughtered in front of him, rather than trying to help them or run to safety the son stands and watches as he takes photos on his cellphone.
A tale of two lives half-lived, the impression is also of a story half told: why was Hofer determined to reach Devil’s Den if he did not know what he would find there? What power raised Mina from her shallow grave in the woods to seek revenge? Whatever Lange’s intentions, offering blood and violence to conceal the pitfalls in his minimal plot, it is his meaning which unfortunately remains obscured in the dark.
The Dark is available on DVD from Signature Entertainment on their FrightFest Presents label from Monday 22nd October