A disturbed man with unknown psychic abilities tries to unravel the mystery of his parent’s disappearance while battling his own demons.
From the people who just released the pretty darn good film, Dolls, Uncork’d Entertainment is now releasing another terrifying thriller, The Dark Within. Co-written and directed by David Ryan Keith, The Dark Within is a psychological thriller minced with occult and demon fair minced with dream-within-dream structure minced with relationship exploration and grief minced with scientific mind-ability experimentation… yep, a whole lot of mincing going on with this movie.
The movie begins in a military laboratory where scientists are doing a psychological experiment right out of Strangers Things by testing the cognitive ability of different candidates. One of them turns out to be the son of the lead scientist, a young boy named Marcus (Paul Flannery). For hitherto unexplained reasons, we then see one candidate overcome by evil spirits. Years later, we meet Marcus again, but as an adult struggling with the disappearance of his parents and the psychological mess that is his mind. He copes by seeing a psychotherapist, Dr. Norton (Stephanie Lynn Styles), who is dedicated to helping him overcome his demons. As a last resort, she hands him a comically large key and suggests that he stay a few days at the cabin he grew up in, order to jog his memories and get closer to a breakthrough.
Almost immediately, Marcus begins to find clues to his past, stumbling upon a mysterious but seemingly familiar serum, as well as an audio tape of his parents discussing him going to the lab with his father on his birthday. More clues pop up during his stay, which feels like only a day, but with the arrival of his ex-girlfriend, Sarah (Kendra Carelli), who says she has come at the behest of Dr. Norton, Marcus realizes he has actually been there for a week. Sarah tries in vain to help him overcome his demons, but she only finds herself pulled into his madness at great cost. Alone in the cabin, Marcus resolves to overcome his past once and for all.
The Dark Within delivers on jump scares and some very creepy imagery as we follow our main character’s descent into madness. This movie is in no way a comedy, but with the charismatic Paul Flannery as Marcus and with it being set in a cabin in the woods where lots of freaky shit goes down, it reminded me a bit of Evil Dead 2. In fact, if you don’t like The Evil Dead films – first of all, you’re wrong – because of the comedy that Raimi and friends injected into it, you might just like this movie because to me it is Evil Dead 2 devoid of comedy… and unfortunately, devoid of narrative editing. Both films deal with demons, possession, and center around some tousle-haired brunette stuck in a cabin in the woods as he loses his mind, however, The Dark Within seemed to employ what my English teacher liked to call “the spaghetti effect”: toss a bunch of shit at a wall and see what sticks. To me, DRK put too many themes into this movie and it is at times hard to piece this puzzle together due to him trying to fake the audience out. I love brilliant twists and turns in movies, but what I don’t appreciate is just flat out lies that the audience couldn’t have guessed at, and in the end, I was not inspired nor motivated to put this puzzle together.
There were some good elements to the Dark Within that I cannot deny though. I was mostly pulled into this movie by its gripping and disturbing imagery, some of which I think I will be replaying in my mind for a while. There was some prosthetic practical effects makeup for the monsters we encounter, which I thought looked good and I was relieved that he didn’t try to use CGI for them. Furthermore, I liked each actor’s performance, even the almost distractingly sexy therapist Dr. Norton played by Stephanie Lynn Styles, but the film was centered around co-writer Paul Flannery’s character Marcus, and he carried this movie, falling precariously into dark and maddening places with great use of horrified facial expressions. BUT! The most important thing to me in making a great film is the story, and The Dark Within needed a clearer focus, and most egregiously, really dropped the ball in its last 10 seconds. DRK should have quit while he was ahead and gave the brave ending I deserved after sitting through all of that jumping around and over-indulgent use of musical score, rather than using everybody’s all-time LEAST favorite way to end something. Gah, I hate being ‘Biggie Smalls-ed’! But I can see he was trying to be creative with this movie throughout, and I can appreciate the final product overall, despite its let downs.
Uncork’d Entertainment seems to have an eye for high production value indie movies these days. The Dark Within looked great aesthetically but it just needs to work on a more coherent storyline so the audience can have something to grab onto and hold our interest while sitting through its 90-minute runtime. If you would like to check out the film for yourself, you can grab a copy on DVD or watch via VOD July 9th.
Adrienne Reese is a fan of movies - the good, the bad, and the ugly - and came to the horror genre by way of getting over her fear of... everything. Adrienne also writes for the Frida Cinema, and in addition to film enjoys cooking, Minesweeper, and binge-watching Game of Thrones.