Not like any experimental film I've ever seen, Murder in the Dark is a straight-up narrative film about a group of tourists stranded in a remote location while an unknown killer knocks them off. Not without its problems, Murder in the Dark still succeeds in its novel approach to filmmaking and its shortcomings aren't any different from those found in other, traditionally scripted horror movies.
Michael is leading a group of medical students on a months-long holiday. Presently, they're in Turkey, in search of a deserted settlement. Kevin, a hitchhiker directs them to the place, and everyone enjoys a fun afternoon exploring the ruin. That night, the group plays Murder in the Dark, a murder mystery game, and the following morning one their number is found dead. Michael's plan to drive the hell away from there thwarted when the van won't start. Forced to spend more time at the crime scene leads to more death, and as the bodies pile up, trust among the survivors decreases.
Where Murder in the Dark differs from other horror movies is in how it was filmed—without a script. It's certainly not the first movie to be made this way, but it differs in that the actors were individually briefed before each scene. Revelations were true surprises, and from moment to moment no one knew what was coming next.
Murder in the Dark
Luke Arnold, Phil Austin, Yann Bean
Rachel's Grade: B
Surprisingly, the movie moves along at a reasonable clip. The risk with unscripted dialogue is that it can go on forever as actors take advantage of the freedom to ad-lib. No so with Murder in the Dark. People say what they need to say and the story moves ever forward. Watching the film, it's hard to know how much of that economy of dialogue is due to directing, editing, or both, but the fact is, Murder in the Dark doesn't waste a whole lot to time on unnecessary talk.
That's not to suggest the movie doesn't futz around. The need for a single location creates a couple of logic problems, and forces characters to make choices that don't benefit them. For instance, there's no reason everyone can't just walk away from the scene, and when the survivors finally do make the decision to leave, it's too dark. I can't justly write off this problem as a necessary evil of a limited budget and experimental approach to filmmaking.
A second, more troubling problem is the film's opening scene. At the risk of spoiling the plot, what happens at the beginning of the movie is simply not possible. Indeed, Murder in the Dark makes a good effort to tie the opening scene into the events taking place in the present, but the impossibility of it all, compounded with a horrifying discovery made later on, forced an end to my suspended disbelief. In short, it kind of kills the premise. And it was a decent idea, if a bit far-fetched.
Despite the film's shortcomings, it's really not a bad movie. Moreover, you can tell the filmmakers had a strong vision and (mostly) solid story. Even though the scenes were made up as they were filmed, the story wasn't; I've seen bigger movies with less cohesion. A genuine murder mystery, Murder in the Dark is an experiment with largely positive results.