9 out of 10
Release Date: 10th August 2012
Director: Alistair Gibbons
Cast: Jessica Barden, Tony Curran, Lyndsey Marshal, Georgia Henshaw, Tim Lewis, Simon Armstrong
Writer: Lucy Catherine
Trailer: IN THE DARK HALF TRAILER
The title refers to the latter half of the year, the darker half, that begins after the Celtic festival of Samhain. In Celtic mythology animals are sacrificed to the land and for a short time, a gateway is opened between the world of the living and the world of the dead by throwing the sacrificed cattle’s bones onto a bonfire. Places were set at the table to feast with dead kin but vengeful spirits of the murdered could also pass across. People were known to protect themselves from harmful spirits. Fairies were also thought to kidnap humans around this time. Interesting or what? Elements of Samhain are scattered throughout this thoroughly effective ghost story.
Set on the rural peripheries of Bristol, a sensitive 15 year old girl Marie (JESSICA BARDEN – TAMARA DREWE) is seen stealing rabbits from her neighbour Filthy’s (TONY CURRAN – RED ROAD) traps to sacrifice to the land spirits who she believes to live in the hill behind her housing estate. Filthy’s devoted six year old son, Sean is afraid of the hill but joins his dad on hunts nonetheless. One evening, Marie babysits a increasingly spooked Sean. Strange lights on the hill and Sean’s strange behaviour are written off as childish high energy, but eventually Marie falls asleep. On awaking her whole world is changed by a strange tragedy that may or not involve the spirit world.
I’ve actually told you far less in the review than other reviews in the papers or Empire have, but arriving at In The Dark Half knowing as little as possible is a real pleasure. I’ve never seen a film quite like it, but I have seen this same story told badly. Cherry picking elements of Samhain rituals for the story elements is inspired and explains away any head scratching moments. Beautifully performed by the young Jessica Barden (COMEDOWN), who stole two recent movies, the god-awful Tamara Drewe and Hanna, where she popped up as the lead’s young holiday friend. She also appeared in the dog awful Comedown, but no one could save that. In In The Dark Half she is on top form again but is equally matched by an excellent cast. Her Marie is an upsetting creation, totally in the thrall of her supernatural beliefs and convinced that she is a curse to those around her. Alienated from those closest to her, we gradually learn why she has embraced such otherworldly elements. Her relationship with Filthy is so well realised. There is so much distance between her and anyone else that it makes sense that she turns to him altering his sense of perception. Or does she? That’s the beauty of this film. Events can be explained away rationally or to fit a supernatural interpretation.
Stunning imagery includes a lake at dawn, a stampede of deer, a deer reflected in a car window and ghostly chalk writing on a wall. In The Dark Half is pitch perfect, and like Outcast (that I recently reviewed) it thoroughly invests it’s story with convincing and never seen before occult / pagan rituals for the plot’s benefit. Cinematography, script and the score are all brilliant, immersive and quite wonderful. My only quibble would be the pace. Occasionally the 84 minutes seem to grind to a halt and viewers with no knowledge of the pagan rites used to accelerate the story may have some problems following it.
9 out of 10 – One of the most intelligent and sensitive ghost stories I’ve ever seen. It can work doubly as an observation on grief and recovery. Ignore the vulgar comparisons to certain Hollywood juggernauts, those films only wish they could unsettle and upset you in the way this creepy one-off does. This marks it’s young star Jessica Barden as an actress to watch. A fine feature film debut for the makers too.
Another Review below by Matt ‘Dr Sook’ Usher
WHAT HAVE IS SEEN THAT ACTOR IN BEFORE?
- Jessica Barden: Comedown, Hanna, Tamara Drewe
- Tony Curran: Awaiting, Marvellous, Thor 2, X-Men – First Class, Tintin (voice), The Veteran, Ondine, Underworld 2, The Good German, Red Road, Blade 2, The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Captives, This Life (TV)
- Lyndsey Marshall: Titanic (TV), Hereafter, Festival, The Hours
- Georgia Henshaw: Angus Thongs and Full Frontal Snogging, Waterloo Road (TV)
- Simon Armstrong: Game Of Thrones (TV), Casualty (TV)