Monday, June 4, 2007

Dark Corners (2007)

The horror intelligencia out there will no doubt adore Dark Corners. It is a “thinking fan’s” horror film, complete with “through the looking glass” juxtaposed realities, a scary serial killer and an ending that will leave most scratching their heads. Writer/director Ray Gower calls the film a mix of “Lynch, Cronenberg and Craven,” which sums up the atmosphere of Dark Corners nicely.

Susan (Thora Birch) has frequent and realistic nightmares about a woman, named Karen (Birch), who looks exactly like her. Brunette Karen lives in a dirty, post-industrial world where most of the inhabitants take their fashion cues from the gutters of Victorian England. When Karen keeps waking up with mysterious welts, scratches and bruises all over her body, she comes to the conclusion that someone is breaking into her dingy apartment while she sleeps to rape and brutalize her. Susan, on the other hand, is blond and lives with her hottie husband (Christien Anholt) in a sparklingly white, large house. Unlike Karen, Susan is very well off and the only problem she has is that she cannot conceive. As Susan is about to begin fertility treatments, her dreams of Karen become more and more vivid, up to the point where Susan feels like two different people. She goes to see a psychoanalyst (Toby Stephens), who hypnotizes her to get rid of the nightmares. Despite the shrink’s help, Susan’s nightmares return when the Night Stalker (Oliver Price), a serial killer on the loose, shows up in both her nightmares and waking life. What is real and what is imaginary? Is Karen just a figment of Susan’s mind or is Susan a figment of Karen’s?

The most striking elements of Dark Corners are its visuals. The contrasting motif of light and dark is very effective in juxtaposing the Susan and Karen characters and makes for stunning set-pieces. Karen’s dark, sooty, Victorian-inspired environment is bizarre and unsettling. The set design is spectacular, with lots of detail to make her world look old-fashioned, even though it is obviously set in the present. Susan’s white picket fence existence is represented by sun-drenched, light and airy rooms. Everything is bathed in bright, warm light that makes it inviting and comforting. Both Karen and Susan’s worlds are represented by dramatic and lush visuals that add so much to the film’s overall look and feel. All in all, the stark contrast between the two realities give the film its off-kilter, unbalanced and unsettling feeling.

The visuals are the film’s strong point, but the acting is also done well. Thora Birch does a wonderful job playing both Susan and Karen, but she seemed a little unbelievable (and young) to be in Susan’s role as happily married, rich and wanting kids. I enjoyed the black humor employed by Karen’s mortician boss, played creepily by Ray Charleson, Oliver Price as the hulking Night Stalker and Toby Stephens as the charming and intense psychoanalyst. There were a few performances that fell flat, but I thought the rest played well enough for this particular film.

Director Ray Gower definitely knows how to craft excitingly ominous scenes and how to translate the character’s disorientation to the audience, but as a writer he needs a little work. I really enjoyed the original story, but it unfortunately begins to fall apart towards the end. The ending is unbelievable (not in a good way) and comes from seemingly nowhere. It just seems to exist for shock value while failing to tie together the rest of the film. The film has inklings of Lynch’s alternating realities, Cronenberg’s “body horror,” and it speaks Craven’s “stalkerese,” but the story never manages to pull everything together to form a cohesive film.

Yet, if you are looking for a film that is decidedly anti-multiplex fare that will keep you guessing, I highly recommend Dark Corners. It is by no means a perfect film, but its nightmarish atmosphere and different approach to horror drew me in and wouldn’t let go.

Order it on Amazon!

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