Tuesday, January 07, 2020

Darkness by Day – review

Director: Martín De Salvo

Release date: 2013

Contains spoilers

Well, this one snuck up – some 7 years after release. Hailing from Argentina the first thing I’d like to address is the quote on the UK DVD cover that suggests “Feels like Under the Skin and Let the Right One In”. Err. No.

Ok, this has an art-house sensibility but that is about the only thing it has in common with the former – and that simply puts them on a similar artistic continent. The only similarity with the latter… well they both have a vampire. Actually, though it isn’t credited as such, this is actually a reimagining of Carmilla.

ocean scene
The film starts with a view of the ocean and cliffs, this moves to trees and a woman, Virginia (Mora Recalde) runs through the trees. Suddenly she awakens and looks to the door to see her father, Emilio (Pablo Caramelo) sat in his chair. In the morning, despite not having slept, he leaves the family home to visit his brother Ostrosky (Luciano Suardi) as his niece, Julia, is ill and Emilio is a doctor. Later in the day a car arrives. The driver carries Julia’s sister Annabel (Romina Paula) towards the house, she is unconscious. The driver says that he has been paid for bringing her but when asked about Emilio he claims to know nothing and leaves.

Mora Recalde as Virginia
Virginia visits a store in town and hears a radio broadcast about a rabies breakout. This is almost background noise and the fact that rabies has been chosen by the writer is almost irrelevant, it could be a reference to any plague/outbreak. Lidia, who runs the shop, tries to engage Virginia in conversation about her daughter – a ballet dancer on tour overseas – but Virginia escapes the store and gets back home. Back home Annabel is up and about. Virginia tries to call her father but there is no answer, later the phones go down in the house and in town.

the bird
She makes some soup but Annabel isn’t hungry. She does report Julia’s symptoms as being weak and sleeping all day. That night Virginia checks on Annabel but she isn’t in her room and so she goes out looking for her and finds her, in the morning, sleeping on the forest floor. Nearby, unseen by Virginia, is the bloody carcass of a bird. What we then get, going forward, is a slow burn of a movie more intent on building the relationship of the cousins than showing us anything horrific. Annabel, however, is drawn as the delinquent – whilst Virginia stayed at home and Julia is said to have been studious, she went to Buenos Aires for college and then dropped out – by dint of this she is the outsider in the superstitious small town.

vamp face
Eventually, having met Annabel, Lidia sneaks a wrapped severed rabbit (I’d guess) foot into the bole of a tree and later gives Virginia a blessed charm to keep the chupacabra away. The offer of the charm is from the Carmilla story. There is talk of local girls becoming sick and there is a growing attraction between Virginia and Annabel, which also resonates to Carmilla. Even her mysterious delivery to the house seems resonant with the original story. But we see little vampiric, most is off-screen, but we do see Annabel displaying weird eyes and prominent veins as she lays in the dark and at another point we see her outside someones home just before an off-screen moment of violence, with us seeing only blood spattering a window.

Even when the patriarchs return home, whilst they want to keep the two apart (Annabel is displaying symptoms similar to Julia they say) and carve stakes, the pace of the film never really goes past a deliberate slow burn. Really the most accurate thing one can say about this, is it is a mood piece, it generates atmosphere and that is the aim, I think. The ambience ignores anything like a sense of urgency, not that outstays its welcome at 72 minutes, and rather is a masterclass at generating a sense of the uncanny. However, if that mood is not what you are looking for then it might not be your cup of tea. It was mine, 7 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

On demand @ Amazon US

On DVD @ Amazon UK

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