What’s in the DarknessLondon Film Festival 2016
13th October 2016 8.30pm at Curzon Soho
16th October 2016 1.00pm at Curzon Soho
The opening scene of Wang Yichun’s What’s in the Darkness effectively sums up the film’s central themes: an inept detective (Guo Xiao) attempts a clumsy forensic analysis on a slaughtered pig, trying to impress his embarrassed daughter. Macabre, unflinching and bleakly comedic, this sets the tone for an impressive genre piece by a breakout Chinese writer and filmmaker.
Jing, a dreamy, solemn preteen with sad brown eyes, is attempting to navigate the difficulties of puberty within her small, prudish family, in which makeup and dates are strictly forbidden. At the same time, the bodies of raped and murdered young women begin appearing around the outskirts of town, dumped by a hasty killer. Like any young teenager, Jing is keen to learn about the facts of life, which nobody close to her seems keen to impart. Instead, she is exposed to brief, odd flashes of sexuality: hit on by a lecherous old man; a muttered warning from her father to sit with her legs closed; an embarrassing encounter at the bra shop; she feels painfully awkward next to her more beautiful and physically mature classmate. Jing is also morbidly curious about the murders; she pushes through the crowd to get a better look at the corpse and sneaks a peek at her father’s procedural photos. The police in her small town are incompetent, squabble amongst themselves and spend most of the film botching the investigation and making rash accusations.
These two storylines progress in parallel, connected by the detective father. Their intertwinement becomes more apparent later in the film, as a tragic twist combines Jing’s world further with the serial killings. The screenplay was written by Wang nearly two decades ago, and the setting – a drab northern Chinese town in 1991 – was heavily inspired by her own youth and an attempt to reclaim the lost voice of her generation. What appears on paper as another grim murder-mystery police procedural is, in fact, a fascinating insight into Chinese authoritarianism and how tragedy may result from repressed desires, police ineptitude and restrictive ideologies.
The quietly climactic coda has echoes of Bong Joon-ho’s Memories of Murder and is equally as compelling. A female-centric crime thriller is an unusual – but much needed – new style of narrative and one which we will hopefully see much more of.
What’s In the Darkness does not have a UK release date yet.
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Watch the trailer for What’s in the Darkness here: