by Justin P. Lange and Klemens Hufnagl
In The Dark by Justin P. Lange and Klemens Hufnagl, the exposed theory becomes a universal message in an interesting and successful genre film that includes other influences from different forms of the seventh art.
In the field of contemporary film production, the Diagonale 2019 screened the interesting The Dark, produced entirely in Austria but with most of the crew coming from the United States. Including the director himself, Justin P. Lange, here presenting his first feature film, who was joined in this project by Austrian Klemens Hufnagl.
However, the latter is not the only Austrian name in the crew. The cast includes, in fact, also Karl Markovics (also director since 2011), a true excellence of Austrian cinema, appreciated even abroad. He plays Josef, a dangerous criminal who comes by chance to an isolated house in a forest. The man is soon attacked and killed by a mysterious presence with the features of a scarred teenage girl, who soon discovers – inside the boot of the late Josef’s car – a child, still alive, whose eyes have been gouged out.
From the very first minutes, the story of The Dark gradually becomes more mysterious and intricate, with a successful crescendo of tension. From a certain point onwards, the story seems to deliberately abandon the horror character to give way to the drama of the two youngsters, pointing a finger – without exception – at the world of adults and, in a broader sense, at the whole of society, capable of generating real monsters. Alex and Mia (this is the name of the mysterious girl) are Tod Browning’s freaks (although, in fact, people avoid them), innocent creatures pointed at as monsters and consequently led to become really dangerous.
All this, as already mentioned, is staged in a wood, the only location used, with all the important symbolism it represents. Here, therefore, the forest becomes a place of mystery, death and rebirth, custodian – like a mother’s womb – of disturbing secrets, as well as kingdom of frightening illusions. It is no coincidence that the directors chose to set The Dark in a forest. As the title suggests, then, everything here is dark, not much light filtering through the tall trees. And this gives rise to the most disparate illusions. This darkness also refers, in a broad sense, to the condition of the young Alex, who can no longer see anything.
Despite their relatively limited experience behind the camera, the directors have been able to stage the aforementioned atmospheres to perfection, drawing heavily (but at the same time creating something totally new) from what was created in the past. Specifically, this wood reminds us of the wood of Lars Von trier in Antichrist, represented in one of its most evocative and significant aspects. But this is also the wood of numerous genre films – starting with the numerous slashers and culminating in successful psychological thrillers. In short, an endless source of ideas.
Last but not least, there’ s the theme of identity and its loss (connected, in its own way, also to the theme of death and rebirth). Both protagonists are, for one reason or another, irretrievably scarred. These events seem to have erased any trace of their past and their former personalities. So much so that they no longer know who they are. And so we see a frightened Alex becoming attached, in full Stockholm syndrome, to his persecutor Josef, just as an aggressive Mia is shocked to see her own scarred face in the mirror for the first time, but also accepting her role as the “monster of the woods” in the eyes of society. Yes, society. Who are, in fact, the real monsters?
In The Dark, the theory is very explicit. And it becomes a universal message within an interesting and successful genre film that also includes other influences from different forms of the seventh art.
Original title: The Dark
Directed by: Justin P. Lange, Klemens Hufnagl
Country/year: Austria / 2018
Running time: 95’
Cast: Nadia Alexander, Toby Nichols, Karl Markovics, Margarete Tiesel
Screenplay:Justin P. Lange
Cinematography: Klemens Hufnagl
Produced by:Dor Film