A well made sci-fi with a sense of something more.
by C. Rachel Katz
Darken provides. More to the point, Mother Darken provides me with Canadian sci-fi. If you're not overly familiar with Canadian sci-fi, it has a certain look and feel. There's something distinctly ... Canadian about it. A kind of mild claustrophobic atmosphere.
Darken is a new film from Audrey Cummings, and very different from her previous outing, Berkshire County. Eve, a nurse who's struggling with having lost a patient, suddenly finds herself trapped inside Darken, a world of seemingly infinite, interconnected rooms. Presently, Darken is ruled by Clarity who is slowly consolidating her power. Claiming to act on Mother Darken's behalf, Clarity won't tolerate any talk of a world beyond Darken and is swift to persecute dissenters. Eve's presence in Darken threatens Clarity's hold over her people and, well, we can't have that.
What follows is your standard dystopian plot, with plenty of action and drama. As Eve stumbles her way through the world, she learns about its dangers and secrets. Not all is revealed to her, and that's one of the film's strengths--there's still a good amount of mystery to the world. For instance, although we learn the fate of Mother Darken, the world's absentee creator, we don't know where she came from. And when the film ends, Eve and her friends find themselves staring down a new beginning.
Darken reminded me of The Odyssey, a TV show from the early 90s which I really liked. It, too, is about a stranger in a strange land trying to find their way home, and guess that's something we can all understand on some level--the desire for the familiar comforts of home. In Darken, each room belonged to someone, but the rooms themselves aren't inviting, making the world that much more alienating and foreign.
Weirder still, no one in Darken can remember their life before they arrived. All they know is they were lost, and Mother Darken gave them sanctuary. If this sounds vaguely like a metaphor for suicide, know that I thought the same thing. The idea is further reinforced by the fact that one of the characters did try to kill himself at some point in the past. Thankfully, the movie stops short of becoming allegorical, as the focus is--and should be--on the shifting power dynamics within Darken. Whatever this world is, it's in turmoil. And whoever these people are, they've got some hard choices ahead.
Darken was conceived by RJ Lackie, who's vision was so big that Darken has been developed in a series. Watching the film feels a bit like watching a really good pilot, only better. Sure, there's the standard introduction of characters and a brief orientation to the world of the film, but it's satisfying in a way pilots seldom are. Probably because Lackie knows where he wants his story to go, and Darken's plot is self-contained.
Darken closed out the 2017 Blood in the Snow Film Festival, and was (clearly) one of this reviewer's favourites. And that's not just because I have a soft spot for Canadian scifi. Darken is a testament to what can be accomplished with a great idea and a fairly limited budget.
Darken was preceded by the short film Banshee, another festival highlight. In it, a young girl struggles to fall asleep, haunted by bad memories of that time she got lost in the woods. Her big sister has run out of patience, and the two strike a bargain: big sis won't tell mom and dad about little sister's drawings of monsters in the woods if she promises to go to sleep. Easier said than done because lil sis is sure something followed her home.
Incredibly atmospheric, Banshee does a great job balancing kid fears and teenaged frustration with the same. The hateful older sister is so thoroughly unsympathetic you wind up hoping there is a monster in the house, so she can get what's coming to her. Childhood trauma be damned!
Rachel's Grade: A