Out Of Darkness (2022)

FEBRUARY 12, 2024


Having never seen the trailer*, I only knew two things about Out of Darkness when I sat down for it: 1. That it was, alas, not based on the book by Sidney Prescott, and 2. That friends who saw it described it as "boring." But that's not a particularly enlightening description, and it's subjective af to boot. I also know people who think Session 9 is boring, whereas I'm the guy sitting there wishing it was longer. And yet I have found the last couple Michael Bay movies interminable, even though they're certainly not lacking for action sequences. A slow paced movie can reel you in or turn you off depending on so many factors (your mood, the vibe of the crowd, even the presentation) that "boring" is about as useful as identifying the font in the end credits in determining if a movie will be for you.

At any rate, I didn't find it boring. Indeed I was really into it for the first hour, despite the fact that-yes-there weren't a lot of traditional action or scares in that chunk of the film. The plot concerns a group of six nomads in the year 45,000 BC, searching for a new land because the one they left was cursed. They arrive on the shores of this new world looking for strong shelter and game to hunt, only to find it suspiciously barren and the nearest caves a few days' walk away from the beach, a daunting task when they have no food (and one of the two women is pregnant to boot). Will they survive long enough to get there? Should we put too much thought into the fact that the main couple of the group is named Adem and Ave?

That alone could be a compelling tale, but before long it's clear that there's something out there watching them, and eventually it grabs the youngest member and vanishes into the darkness. Since he is the boy's father, Adem (who is also the group's leader, a position a couple others in the group are starting to doubt he deserves) wants to follow, but is convinced to wait until the daylight so that he isn't lost (or worse) as well. As the film proceeds, his role as "heroic leader" begins to diminish, becoming a borderline villain at one point, so again even without the (monster?) out there the movie could have a compelling thrust. The idea of an alpha male being broken down by the pressure of being the leader, his own ego, and his inability to protect that what matters most is certainly something that I could watch for 87 minutes.

(Side note: yes, that is the actual runtime. A glorious gift from the cinema gods. Even with trailers I was home two hours after the start time!)

But no, there is obviously something out there reducing their number, and the movie unfortunately lost me when it was revealed (spoilers ahead, though it's kind of obvious after the second attack scene). It is not an animal or a monster (or a demon, as one member of the group seems to think) but merely Neandrethal people who were there first, and they don't even mean harm. They took the boy, yes (and it's unexplained why they did it in the manner they did; why not wait until daytime and present yourself in a less terrifying fashion?), but not to kill him--they actually brought him back to their shelter and fed him. Our main group's paranoia and mistrust is what gives the movie its body count, so ultimately it's a MESSAGE MOVIE with the rather well-tread idea that maybe we shouldn't just assume "the other" means us harm, and that ultimately we're our own worst enemy. Not that that is an inherently bad idea, but even with the acknowledged/appreciated short length it retroactively makes the movie feel long when it all boils down to the same moral of any dozen Twilight Zone episodes that were an hour shorter.

Plus (still spoilers! Skip to the next paragraph if you want) it denies us prehistoric monsters (or even a badass sabretooth tiger or something along those lines)! I feel we've been really shortchanged over the past decade when it comes to normal sized monsters; we get plenty of Godzilla types but almost nothing when it comes to 10-12 foot long beasties, other than sharks which are way overused. The hints we got about the "creature"--the kidnapping of the kid, the discovery of some giant skeleton and what seems to be enough blood to cover a cliffside, a character's jaw torn straight off--don't really gel with what we learn about it later, so it feels like a cheat on top of a copout. And when it's in favor of a lesson we can get out of a few memes on Twitter (well, maybe not these days), I couldn't help but leave disappointed after such a promising first hour.

On the plus side it looks great even after the script takes a nose dive, and the cast does a fine job of quickly creating six distinct characters (when it's almost all dark and they're all wearing animal skins/furs, it could have been easy to get them mixed up, but I never did) while also speaking a made-up language called Tola, which is based on Arabic and Basque. Since it was on the same screen I saw Silent Night two months ago, I couldn't help but wonder if the movie would have worked just as well without any dialogue at all, leaving grunts and facial expressions as the sole mode of communication. Other than the story of how they got there and why, I can't think of a single moment that required dialogue to really grasp, especially when the dialogue is weirdly anachronistic (there's an F bomb!) or just clunkily spelling out its obvious message. Great score by Adam Janota Bzowski, who also composed Saint Maud (if memory serves the score was one of the few things I liked in that one).

So I get why people were bored, but I wasn't one of them. Instead I was just annoyed by the "twist", as it undid what was working about the movie while also giving me flashbacks to a certain sorta-horror movie from 20 years ago (you can probably guess the one, if not just go look at the box office for 2004 and you'll see it pretty quick), though the context was different (and that movie offered an even more annoying twist later). Still, it's always nice to have an original horror movie in theaters (a foreign one at that!), especially one that mostly delivers: it's nice to look at, has a couple of good jolts, etc. I just wish they hadn't tried to go all "elevated" in the home stretch, as if making a straightforward survival horror movie wasn't good enough and they were hoping to get picked up by A24 instead of a lowly major (Sony, in this instance). Felt weirdly insulting, honestly.

What say you?

*I had to laugh that I uncharacteristically went to the movies on a Monday, because for the past 3-4 months I have had to see the One Love and Madame Web trailers before every single movie I have gone to see, and therefore had to suffer through them again this one last time as both finally opened the following day. I was so close to never having to see them again!


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