The Dark follows an undead girl who remains stuck in a flesh-consuming rage following her decades-old murder. When she comes upon a boy who has fallen to similar pains as her own past, she decides to care for him, leading her down an unexpected path.
The Dark Review
Before we dive into the review, a relatively short soapbox on horror categories:
In this writer's personal opinion, genre films generally split in three directions at the trunk of the horror tree. All three versions are innately horror, but are vastly different in message and appearance. Those three branches are conventional, comedy, and arthouse. I must preface the coming thoughts with a confession that I have often applied negative connotations that fester on each of these categories throughout my reviewing "career", but while they all tend to have predictable elements that, if not done properly, can limit their quality, they all contain characteristics that make them entirely separate from one another and carry their own respectable weight.
The reason I find it important to differentiate these categories is that it can change your perspective on the success of a horror film. A horror film doesn't have to achieve all of these things below to be a good horror film. Friday the 13th doesn't set out to achieve the same thing as The Cabin in the Woods, as it in turn doesn't attempt to achieve the same thing as Hereditary. Yet all three of those films are classic examples of major successes in their respective categories. There are different ways to enjoy horror and we can appreciate every one.
The horror comedy has become a staple of the genre. It can stand on its own or play as a parody, but they inevitably intend to be the most purely entertaining of the categories, usually at the expense of scares (conventional) or substance (arthouse). Yet, when done right, this category has produced some of the most enjoyable films in horror, like The Cabin in the Woods and Tucker and Dale vs. Evil. It's the easiest to dismiss critically, but also the most fun when done right.
Conventional horror are those films that have the general purpose of scaring or repulsing the audience for the mere goal of doing so. They generally don't have an underlying point, and when they do, it is usually surface-level with limited engagement with the audience. The point of these films is to carry a plot in order to strike fear and/or disgust in the audience for the entertainment factor. I consider this the conventional form of horror films that have become the mainstream staple. For perspective, examples of some films I would include in this category are [most] slashers and James Wan Universe films (like Insidious or The Conjuring).
While there is a group of snide group of arthouse lovers that would say "that's not what horror is", they are wrong. It is horror. Just not the only horror, and it may not be the horror they enjoy. And that's fine. They may prefer arthouse horror. Which I do as well. I believe that the most beautiful forms of horror films come from what I call "arthouse" horror. These are films that tend to use dark and disturbing subject matter as a vehicle to drive social commentary, psychological metaphors, or philosophical symbolism, to name a few. They use horror for the purpose of elevating drama and tension, to build dynamics between characters and push a story to a more impactful conclusion. Films like Spring, Get Out, The Babadook, and...The Dark...come to mind when discussing this version of horror.
While these three categories tend to be distinct, they can also overlap as well. A horror comedy can deliver a powerful message on racial tensions. An arthouse film can be truly terrifying from beginning to end. A conventional horror film can break the tension with a hilarious gag or use the excessive violence of its murderous villain to reveal a key motif from the protagonist. But really, the point here is to appreciate the wonderful genre of horror for its intended purpose, and that may require a different perspective for each film individually. Because sometimes I want to be awed by the dark beauty of a film's story, and other times I want to laugh and gasp on a proverbial rollercoaster that doesn't require a line or the feeling of impending death.
And from that massive monologue I won't bore you with an extensive review, but I did want to point out that The Dark is a fantastic horror film when viewed through the lens of an arthouse approach. It actually had this pacing that was almost the opposite of any film I have ever seen. It doesn't quite have a climax (this crescendo to close out the film in an excitable way), but it does end strongly with the path it takes its characters on. I was intrigued by this mode of filmmaking because I would normally consider it a huge mistake and actually an outright directing or editing error. But when you examine The Dark, the methodical, somber dissipation of violence properly coincides with the tension and drive between characters, both internally and externally.
I found The Dark to be a masterpiece of arthouse horror that powerfully tackled the concept of trauma, pain, and conquering anger and hate that have spawned from hate committed upon you. You may carry that pain your whole life, but you don't have to let it rule you. And this film takes a supernatural, grotesque vehicle to drive that point home. And it hits home.
Horror Rating System
Horror Qualifier: 7/10 Horror Quality: 4/10 Film Quality: 7/10