Beginning with a rip-off of the (depending on who you ask) iconic Scott Free Productions logo––albeit with a rabbit instead of bird––I knew I was in for something deeply derivative with Out of Darkness. And perhaps that technically proficient-if-soulless feel that defines many of one Scott brother is what particularly shapes this new horror picture. It’s essentially a prehistoric slasher, the film’s opening taking place around a spooky campfire tale that, for one, makes clear its lineage back to the original Friday the 13th. Yet the stock butchered teenagers of that franchise were honestly preferable company to the muddy, grunting Before Common Era folk we’re stuck with.
Certainly there’s a heavier pall over this group, like pregnancy and the lineage, as we follow the family unit of leader Adem (Chuku Modu), doted-over son Heron (Luna Mwezi), and the bun-in-the-oven Ave (Iola Evans). Accompanying them as they make their way across grim, rocky terrain are a number of disposable characters who will be picked off by the shadow creatures warned about across the campfire. Perhaps we’ll have a slasher that reaffirms the nuclear set-up?
There’s the admirable gambit of an entire film subtitled in a dead language (shades of Apocalypto?) yet one can easily surmise that its arty intentions truly end there. The dominant takeaway is likely a bid for a piece of IP from first-time director Andrew Cumming (he does a good-enough job aping both classics and their contemporary bastardizations to likely get it). I feel like I say this a lot as a critic who reviews many, say, festival-type genre films and am truly getting a little tired of making the observation, but the state of the industry basically forces me to do so. The consumer-report side of me could say the film is highly competent, with many nice vistas of the Scottish Highlands captured through drones. Yet it’s lacking in the genuine requirements for this kind of picture––any real suspense, terror, or ickiness (maybe other than one grisly makeup effect involving a jaw).
One can excuse the overwhelming greyness as just the atmosphere they’re working with, but the film having a self-seriousness that makes one yearn for the days of Neil Marshall is not a good sign. There’s a point where the creatures remaining in shadows throughout feels less like a strategy for suspense and more shame for its genre. This is cemented by a twist it makes sure to undercut as “metaphor” to the audience––the thing all contemporary genre films seem to accrue flop sweat over.
While I’m often prone to forgive a dumb film made by a smart technician, I want to feel like they believe in the thing they’re making––at least a little. Though perhaps a Highlander (or whatever) reboot will be the right material for Andrew Cumming to sink his teeth into.
Out of Darkness is now in theaters.