Dark Encounter uses the lens of a personal tragedy to create a film which at first seems simplistic and all too familiar, but soon morphs into something far more interesting.
Synopsis: A year after the mysterious disappearance of an 8 year-old girl, we meet her grieving family as they return home from her memorial service in their small town. Later that evening, strange lights appear in the nearby forest and the family is exposed to an inexplicably strange phenomenon that rattles them to the core. The origin of the lights appear to be visitors from another world that seemingly terrorise the family.
If, like me, you can largely take or leave sci-fi elements in your horror a decent stretch of Dark Encounter might feel like a bit of a trial. However, even for those who feel that way, I would recommend sticking with this one. Without veering too far into spoiler territory, this is a film which very much plays with viewer expectations and knows its genre (and subgenres) well enough to be able to pull off a change that would seem too severe if done clumsily. Happily, Dark Encounter manages this change with ease and it is easy to be swept along.
The element that most impressed me within the film was the use of light. Torch light, car headlights and other sources of illumination are confrontational – placed full focus on the screen and the effect of this as a viewer is that you are frequently dazzled by the intensity of them. This dazzling puts you in the same position as the family and it genuinely feels like you too, are caught in the experience.
Some of the later stylistic choices too are very impressive and evoke this sense of closeness to the central family. This is furthered by a emotionally-heavy performance by Laura Fraser as Olivia – the grieving mother at the centre of the tale. The film also boasts a rare non-comedic performance by Alice Lowe. This is a UK film and so the decision to set the action outside of Britain and have the whole cast take on accents seems like a strange decision, but the performances work well enough.
The word that keeps returning to me about this film is graceful. It handles it’s initial direction in a kind of by-the-numbers way but the journey it takes, despite being a departure feels very smooth. It very carefully weaves its narrative so that the louder, more energetic start gradually slows to something more quiet and subdued. In fact, the film boasts some very impressive scenes that are almost entirely silent which really offer the film a great deal in terms of atmosphere.
For anyone looking for a film that shows how powerful playing with genre conventions can be, Dark Encounter is definitely worthy of your time.
My rating: 4/5 stars – ****/*****