In The Dark Half
Directed by Alastair Siddons, In The Dark Half is a darkly atmospheric melding of social realist drama and dissonant psychological horror. Its ambition and power is all the more impressive for being the product of a low-budget collaboration between BBC Films and Bristol City Council.
Marie (Jessica Barden) is a troubled 15-year-old struggling to come to terms with a tragic incident in her past. When a similarly shattering event befalls her neighbours, the taciturn Filthy (Tony Curran) and his 6-year-old son Shaun, grief draws Filthy and Marie together while simultaneously isolating them from the rest of their community.
The grim concrete suburbia in which Marie and Filthy live is surrounded by a beautiful but sinister natural world. A steep green hillside, according to legend hollow and haunted by the spirits of the town’s dead, rises to a dense patch of woodland. Here, Filthy hunts and fishes with his son Shaun, while Marie has found a sanctuary from her tormented relationship with her mother in an overgrown pill pox. Within its dilapidated walls she hangs spirit catchers, buries the bodies of animals, and communes with spirits. The action takes place as autumn spreads across the landscape – as the year moves into its “dark half” – further suffusing the film with a melancholy mysticism.
Both settings are drenched in atmosphere, and the cinematography captures with great intensity the contrast between the dour life of the town and the dangerous wildness of the woods that lie just beyond its bounds. In The Dark Half is deeply evocative, transporting you utterly into its world. This is a world which is submerged in the delusions of its protagonists, with an almost imperceptible line between fantasy and reality.
As Marie becomes remote from the living figures in her life – her friends and relatives – a bond with spirit life grows to take its place. Filthy’s grief initially takes a different form, expressing itself in furious rage as he hunts for someone to blame and torture for his hurt. But he is gradually drawn into Marie’s intuition of a spirit world, as devastating pain tumbles the two of them into a supernatural reality in which spirits strive to convey their needs and desires to the living. Their interactions move between the town and the woods, winding towards a deeply moving climax that alloys death and redemption.
In The Dark Half is by no means perfect. Some of the interactions between the characters feel a little stilted. The script stumbles into predictability on a couple occasions, and the film’s disturbing enchantment is broken by the intrusion of a horror-movie cliché, or too well-worn council estate set-piece. There are moments the atmosphere is stretched thin by an overlong scene, stalling the film’s brooding momentum.
But its ambition is admirable. It is a beautifully shot and absorbing exploration of the frailty of the human psyche, and of the dark power of the imagination when under the spell of severe depression. Its melding of realism and fantasy works to great effect. At moments it is deeply chilling, with a palpable air of menace almost making you want to flee the cinema. On such a low budget, the medium of film is employed with great ingenuity to give life and form to people whose troubled mental state leaves them far removed from the rest of society, creating an understanding and empathy with people who are often dismissed as irretrievable. In The Dark Half is undoubtedly a film that anyone interested in the power of cinema to explore human experience should try to see. It is released nationwide on 24th August.
In The Dark Half is released nationwide on 24th August.