Most of Dark takes place in New York City during the regional blackout that hit the northeastern portion of the U.S. on Thursday, August 14, 2003. The film opens the night before the blackout with a love scene between Leah and Kate. But Kate wants things a little rougher than Leah is willing to dish out and the encounter ends badly. In the morning, Leah leaves for work and Kate is left to fend for herself in the unfamiliar apartment. She’s just moved in and hasn’t had time to unpack.
Kate’s a former model who now earns her living as a yoga instructor and she eventually leaves for work herself. During the day she meets with Leah who wants to discuss the previous night’s falling out, but Kate will have none of it. We also learn that Leah is leaving on a trip and won’t be back until Sunday. Still, Kate refuses to talk about anything of substance and tells Leah to have fun.
Returning to Leah’s apartment alone, Kate, while staring off into space, lets a glass of orange juice slip from her hand, shattering the glass and splattering the orange juice across the floor. When she can’t find anything to clean up the spill or the broken glass, she heads to the local bodega to purchase some paper towels. While there, the blackout hits. It’s 4:10 P.M. on Thursday.
Kate walks back to the apartment amid blank stop lights and blaring car horns and uses her early smartphone to light the way up the pitch black stairwell to the fourth floor apartment. And that’s when shit gets weird. From that point on until morning, we are witness to Kate’s not so gradual descent into madness.
The theme of the film seems to be isolation, or rather, “ISOLATION!” The lower case, unpunctuated version of the word is inadequate at representing the magnitude of Kate’s isolation, even while in the midst of eight million people. Of course the power blackout has isolated her from all electronic communication or lighting, but the worst of her isolation is self-imposed. Throughout the film we see Kate in a series of solitary activities interspersed with interactions with first Leah; then John, Leah’s neighbor; and then Benoit, who Kate meets in a bar during the blackout. Kate seems incapable of having an honest, heartfelt conversation with anyone and is always playing a part, whether the demure, flirtatious introvert or the belligerent, verbally abusive harlot. She is so saturated with self-loathing that she seems to ridicule everyone who shows any interest in her. As Leah describes her, Kate has been a regular cock magnet lately, but though she is flirtatious, she never follows through.
Accelerating her mental deterioration, the building abounds with loud noises, enabling Kate’s mind, in its fragile state, to run rampant with their possible sources. As the darkened night advances, Kate also begins to hallucinate. She has a harder and harder time differentiating the true from the false as her psychosis advances as well.
The cast and crew of Dark have impressive backgrounds, at least from my point of view. The credits tout no less than Joe Dante as executive producer. The screenplay is written by Elias, who also wrote Gut (2012), another dark, psychological study I enjoyed. Dark is directed by Nick Basile, who also has a Gut connection as its assistant producer.
The actors all have genre pedigrees as well. Whitney Able, who plays Kate, was also in All the Boy’s Love Mandy Lane (2006), Monsters (2010), and Ava’s Possessions (2015). Alexandra Breckenridge, as Leah, played young Moira in American Horror Story (2011), and Jessie, Rick’s love interest in Alexandria in The Walking Dead (2015-16). Benoit, a man Kate gets drunk with during the blackout, is played by Michael Eklund, who has also appeared as Zane in Bates Motel (2014). And finally, Brendan Sexton III plays Leah’s odd neighbor, John. Among Sexton’s other credits are The Killing (2011-12) and Session 9 (2001).
Able is in every scene and does an excellent job portraying Kate’s odd chameleon-like moods, degenerating into insanity. Breckenridge, Sexton, and Eklund have roughly equal supporting parts and effectively meld into their characters.
Dark shares some commonalities with Repulsion (1965), for instance, the isolation of a woman with a damaged and fragile psyche. But the similarity ends there. In Repulsion, there is never any doubt in the outcome. But when Dark ends, I had a lot of doubt about several outcomes. Once Kate’s hallucinations are introduced, it’s impossible to tell what has really happened and what is merely a feverish imagining. There is little or no action, and little interaction with other characters. Kate spends long sequences in the apartment alone. Yes, it does heighten the isolation theme, but as much as I like psychological descents and character studies, there were times during Dark when it was difficult for me to maintain interest. I found myself wondering when something was going to happen. In hindsight, I think it was happening, but in great single-character detail.
I think the filmmakers accomplish what they set out to do. It just wasn’t my cup of tea.
Dark (2.5 / 5)
*Title quoted from “The Raven” (1845) by Edgar Alan Poe.