Dir. Alastair Siddons, UK, 2011, 111 mins
Cast: Tony Curran, Lyndsey Marshal, Jessica Barden
Review by Eva Moravetz
Grey urban realism mingles with dark and brooding mysticism in this low budget, psychological horror, the first feature of documentary filmmaker Alastair Siddons.
Marie (Jessica Barden) is a lonely, alienated teenager who’s troubled by past traumas and in conflict with her mother (Lyndsey Marshal) who’s obsessed with rearranging the house by knocking down walls. She spends her free time in a bunker on the hills where she buries dead animals, hangs up spirit-catchers, writes on the walls and talks to spirits. Their neighbour, Filthy (Tony Curran) is a passionate rabbit hunter who frequents the nearby forest with his six-year-old son, Shaun, shooting hares. One night, as Marie is left to baby-sit for Filthy, little Shaun collapses and dies. Filthy is beside himself with grief looking for someone to blame and Marie retreats into her own world even more, convinced that a dark presence is on her heels but she’s not sure whether it’s Shaun’s spirit or something more sinister…There’s disturbing tension between Marie and Filthy but they’re soon drawn together by invisible forces of shared emotions to bring the story to an unusual and climatic end.
In The Dark Half is a surprisingly impressive movie considering its humble beginnings as a submission project to a panel of industry experts, written by Lucy Catherine and created as a collaborative effort between Bristol City Council and BBC Films.
Siddons masterfully balances the drab, realist landscape of life on the estate with the dark, lush nature that exists on its borders, and there’s a sense of both threat and magic surrounding the hillside woods. It’s as if the dull streets of suburbia and the otherworldly forest were two different dimensions and crossing the line between them was like leaving this world behind and entering the realm of spirits.
The story is set during autumn – the time when, according to pagan beliefs, the year turns into its dark half, hence the title of the film – giving Spanish cinematographer Neus Olle the chance to capture the beauty of nature in its melancholy abundance. Although the film in not completely free of some clichés, it’s saved by clever introduction of pagan motives, horror elements and symbolism into dull realism with hypnotic effect. Filthy is passionate about his hunting trips and his hares; even the wallpaper in little Shaun’s bedroom is covered with rabbits. Marie finds dead rabbits in Filthy’s freezer (a suspenseful scene bordering on horror). Hares, according to ancient belief, were messengers of the Moon Goddess, Epona, animals that were thought to be able to move between the world of the living and the dead by moonlight, and made into the leading symbols here in the film. ‘The line is thin between our world and theirs. Spirits can cross over, you know’ Marie tells Filthy to convince him about the presence of entities in her pill box on the hill.
In The Dark Half deals with heavy topics: depression and grief, imagination and redemption; serious human conditions that get sensitive treatment and evocative expression in this effective, absorbing movie.