Justin P. Lange’s recent film The Dark commands over 90 percent on the movie review site Rotten Tomatoes, which for most genres is quite the impressive feat, but I’ve found to be less indicative of anything remotely good with two genres: horror and comedy. In the realm of these opposites-attract fraternal twins, audiences are much more divided. I’d wager it’s because what makes us laugh and what makes us scream are hard to pin down, and therefore difficult to pull off.
Getting a large percentage of a given population to agree, then, is near triumphant. Thus, I tend to prefer horror or comedy at a 56 percent or less, with 76 percent or less being a good gamble. Above the 76 mark, I tend to find the horror yawn inducing and comedy barely giggle worthy. No doubt, at the higher Rotten Tomatoes Tomato-meter levels one can guarantee a film rife with the latest faddish hashtag issues and political agendas, the latter being tolerable only in Tom Clancy movies and political dramas such as Charlie Wilson’s War and Wag the Dog.
Meat-fisting politics into film is equivalent, in my opinion, to a gallery space filled with used toilets and dissected cadavers between glass. It’s not art, it’s not cute, nor is it relevant outside its own space (i.e., dirty toilets belong in truck stops and cadavers belong on the autopsy table). Thus, the fact that I sat down and watched The Dark at all was strange, but something spoke to me about the trailer. Against my own judgement, I buckled in for the ride. What I found surprised me.
First off, The Dark is not scary. There is no sense from the Devil’s Den, the film’s dreaded place where few set foot, and fewer return—in which most of the film takes place—that there’s anything actually threatening about it. This is becoming more common in modern horror as less people believe in God and the supernatural. The setting of a movie loses mystery because, of course, modern man is on the brink of learning all there is no know about it, always just one step from bursting God’s little red balloon.
What’s left are the characters, chattering with one another, fidgeting with their own devices to get out of whatever problems the writers have woven together. This is precisely what we see when we meet the homosexual Josef and his blinded love slave, Alex. Josef finds the monster Mina, rather Mina finds him, and things get crazy. Mina then discovers Alex in the back of Josef’s car, doing just as the rules have been dictated to him by his master and hiding under his sleeping bag.
I honestly wasn’t sure where things were going with Alex and Josef, as Josef was clearly Catholic (so says the Rosary hanging from the rear view mirror of his car, and the Crucifix emblem on his Zippo lighter). Could this be a brutally honest exploration of the Church abuse scandals, circa 2018? Not really, but what followed didn’t disappoint. Zombie girl Mina and blind sex victim Alex begin a bizarre relationship that, despite awkwardness and violence, somehow leads to healing for the boy, and redemption for the girl.
The zombie mythos of Mina was confusing for the first ¾ of the movie, and mythos is the foundation for movies of fantasy. I shan’t provide spoilers because the plot is worth guarding, but her “death” brings about a few difficulties in movie logic. If she’s a zombie, then the earth has brought her back to life via… what? It’s not a scientific force, nor is it a voodoo spell of some kind. There are hints to something evil plaguing the living girl Mina, but nothing conclusive in an otherwise paranormal-free universe.
On the other hand, maybe she wasn’t dead at all and, instead comes back to kill innocent people throughout the film of her own accord. Tough to sympathize with that, and entirely out of character from the Mina we are introduced to. The zombie option means a soulless creature without the need or possibility of redemption, while the murderess option leaves us with a sociopath, though there are no signs of sociopathy before Mina’s death.
I was stumped throughout, until I put together that the zombification, the violence, the murder, were all symbolic of the trauma Mina was subject to in her young life. I can relate to this. Besides my own suffering from war, loss, and mental illness, I work with Combat Veterans suffering from combat-related PTSD; utilizing research from Dr. Rich Tedeschi in what’s called Post-Traumatic Growth, I help nudge them along the path to success when they get “stuck”. Mina becomes monstrous when she gets “stuck” and refuses to leave the cycle of trauma that she was inducted into against her will.
Only when her maternal instincts are stimulated by the arrival of a boy suffering as she has, does her own healing begin. Not only are we left with a dazzling commentary on growth through the abandonment of victimhood, but that growth is achieved only when one embraces their masculine or feminine archetypes for the betterment of one’s neighbor. What? From Hollywood? It would appear so, though I think it might have been an “accident”, like the Hellenistic discovery of the Transcendentals.
See, on their journey together, blind Alex and zombie Mina forge a touching bond. Alex begins to see that he has been manipulated into perverse beliefs by his homosexual lover and captor Josef; Mina discovers a maternal tenderness towards Alex that, instead of involving violence, demands protection through the warmth found in shelter, food, and love. In other words, protection of the home. Because of Mina’s affection, it’s clear that Alex’s true masculine identity is breaking through to the surface as Josef’s influence weakens.
In the end, I would recommend this movie to anyone looking for a moral fairy tale disguised as an atmospheric monster movie. Many from the #metoo movement, victims and supporters, have laid claim to this already, as obvious in interviews with the director; but I think it goes beyond political movements and touches on deeper truths about trauma and suffering. Take a look at The Dark, but only if your stomach is strong.
Run time: 95 minutes