Sunday, June 18, 2006

Dark Light - review

Director: Andrew Harrison

Release Date: 2000

Contains spoilers

If you haven’t heard of this film I wouldn’t be concerned (though by the end of the review I hope you'll want to see the film). Dark Light is by Midnight Pictures productions, and is so independent that there isn’t really a distribution, other than via the company themselves. Midnight Pictures are based in Northern Ireland and primarily comprise of Darryl Sloan, who wrote the screenplay and composed the music for the film, and Andrew Harrison who directed the film. This film is, most definitely, a labour of love.

There are issues with the film, not least of which is the film quality, down to the fact that this is filmed on amateur equipment. That is to be expected and the story keeps you hooked enough that you ignore the film quality and concentrate on the story.

The film begins with an aerial shot of a city moving quickly to Altona Biological Research Institute, a British forces research base. We see a man, later revealed to be Newman (Keith Fairgrieve), sneaking through the complex. He takes out a couple of researchers, one punch each, and then a soldier. He is chased and shots are fired, one causing him to drop, but by the time the soldiers get to him he is up and running again. Note that, for a few seconds, we get a first person shooter type view – something well ahead of the sequence placed in Doom (2005). We cut to a doctor, Lang (Andrew Harrison), and military officer, Commander Slater (Darryl Sloan). They have a vial of liquid and Lang asks to be allowed to synthesis more, but Slater refuses. He gets on the phone and calls McKenzie (Paul Barton).

McKenzie is at home, the call causes an argument between McKenzie and his wife Jackie (Lenora McClimonds) as they were meant to be looking after her nephew Adrian (Patrick Hanna). McKenzie goes to the institute and is given a quick briefing on three men, from a special unit named Dark Light, who have gone AWOL. There is Sgt Spence (Harry Hanill) a specialist in assassination, Private Thorpe (Trevor Bullick) an urban terrorist specialist and finally Newman, a hostage specialist. This part of the story didn’t quite gel to me as their ranks seemed a little low for the type of missions they were trained for, but it is a minor quibble. Newman had been recaptured, seemed quite resistant to interrogation and has been allowed to escape again (this time with a sub-coetaneous tracking device implanted). McKenzie is told to find him and report back in, definitely not to approach.

He calls Jackie as he realises that she is at Haven Forest Park with Adrian, the likely location for Newman, but gets short shrift with her when he cannot explain what is going on. We see Adrian at the lakeside and it appears that Newman is approaching him. Jackie runs, shouting at someone, but it is a park worker who was concerned for the boy’s safety. They leave the park. In the meantime Slater has arranged to meet Lang and kills him, tying up loose ends. It is clear that someone watches the assassination.

McKenzie gets to Haven Forest and finds Newman, however he is quickly overpowered. Newman vomits blood into McKenzie’s mouth and then walks away. McKenzie is left retching and bleary eyed. This is a great device and used some four years prior to a similar scene in The Vulture's Eye.

McKenzie goes back to Altona and asks what is going on. The answer comes in the form of a question, has he seen any good vampire movies? The story cuts back five years to Slater in his office. Suddenly a man is in with him, who introduces himself as Cornelius (Thomas Vaughn) and claims that he is a vampire and that he was born in 327 AD. He explains that sunlight destroys his kind and that as mankind has spread there is less and less safe places for them to go, and then offers his services to Slater in return for shelter. Slater, of course, does not buy it and calls security. Two soldiers come in and Cornelius breaks the arm of one, then the neck of the other. Returning to the first, he feeds and then removes Slater’s gun from him. A little about this scene, firstly the fast movement doesn’t look great, but this is born out of budget restrictions, however Vaughn certainly looks good as a vampire – more about this character was not necessary to the film but certainly would have been appreciated by this viewer.

Cutting back to the present and McKenzie doesn’t buy it either. It is clear that Slater is intimating that Dark Light are vampires and McKenzie has seen Newman in the daylight. Slater tells him that they have combined human and vampire DNA to make a creature with all the vampire strengths but none of the weaknesses. McKenzie is going to walk anyway but Slater shows him a cam of Jackie, now a hostage. The worker in the park was a soldier in Slater’s employ, should McKenzie refuse the mission or kill Slater (as he clearly wishes to do) she will die. McKenzie has no choice. Slater believes the fate of the world is dependant on the mission success. Vampires would have ruled the world if it were not for the pesky sunlight detail, the army have certainly developed their super-soldiers but have created something they cannot control. We later find out that Slater is still not on the level, he ensured the vampires were infected with a disease, the only cure for which is the liquid from earlier, it is his fail safe. The film is not explicit but we can guess he wants his specialist little unit back and under control.

The film has some neat little plot twists as it progresses, which I am not going to spoil for you. There are also some plot questions that come to mind, probably unanswered due to the short 68 minute length of the film. However, generally, the plot is actually tighter than many other films with a larger budget and so called professionals in charge. The acting is of an amateur level, of course, but it is more than competent and the dialogue flows very naturally and that is both to the credit of the actors and to Sloan’s script. The soundtrack fits really well and adds a lot to the film.

I would really like to see these guys do this again, with a bigger budget, better equipment and expanded script. They clearly had a love for what they were doing and some good ideas and it seems a shame that their vision should be stifled for want of a few bucks. Comparative to something low budget like Ankle Biters (2002), which seemed to have been filmed on comparable equipment, this film shows its vast superiority. The story is tighter, the acting more natural, the sound is better recorded and the direction a million times stronger. It seems a crying shame that this film has not received more attention and some form of professional distribution when “Ankle Biters” has somehow managed an international release.

You can buy the film via the website, at the time I bought it they were charging £2.50 for the UK or £3.00 outside the UK for the film or £5.00/£6.00 for all four DVDs they have produced (Dark Light being the only vampire movie), but give Darryl an email to check the prices. The DVD itself has menu system, chapters and extras, it comes on DVD-R without box or cover, but a professionally produced cover is available for download on the site.

The issues I identified are no barrier to the enjoyment of the film, and I have taken the incredibly indie nature of the film into account, as well as giving credit for what they did with so little, when deciding to give this a good 6.5 out of 10 – after all the main reason for watching a film is to get enjoyment out of it and I did enjoy this. More, it is clear that the makers enjoyed making it and that is something that shines through. This is a film made by a clearly creative group of people and it is one that genre fans will certainly enjoy, so long as they keep an open mind about the budget restrictions.

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