Anthony Byrne writes and directs his first feature, In Darkness. It is a noble attempt from someone who primarily known for their TV work, directing episodes of Peaky Blinders and Ripper Street. Meanwhile, Natalie Dormer (Game of Thrones), co-writes, produces and stars in a film that according to them took about 9 years to get made.
Dormer’s character Sofia is a blind pianist who goes about her day-to-day life working on film scores and getting Coffee at a local café. It is a role that she never planned to play, writing it with the intention of giving it away to another actress, then she did a small TV show. Sofia’s life is turned upside down when her upstairs neighbour (Emily Ratajkowski), has a fall. She is the daughter of a rich warlord with a part in the Bosnian war. This sends Sofia on a mission revealing secrets about her past, crossing paths with gangs, a thug full of regret (Ed Skrein) and an evil lady staging a power grab. There is clearly a lot going on in such a small movie. They have a premise that seemed somewhat interesting, which is why I was there. This may have been the most research I had done on any movie I’ve seen at the festival this year, prior to seeing it.
Natalie Dormer as a lead provides an interesting performance, being blind in the movie it provides an interesting challenge for her. This something that she does manage to pull off in a believable fashion, successfully carrying the film and managing to pull off some bad dialogue. Dormer really is a bright spark in a sea of bad accents from the eccentric Russian billionaires and thugs and she is given the most to do. But this means side characters like Ed Skrein only exist to further her along and have no background or any sense of depth to them. This is fine as it is very much her story but having actors like him wasted is sad to see.
One of the main issues I had with the story is that the twists seem to be endless yet hardly ever make the audience feel as though they’ve earnt them, and worst of all they were all quite easy to see coming. It is an issue that plagues the film as they do come thick and fast, nothing they tried would ever fully get my engagement and by the end of the movie, it was gone.
But you can see what they wanted to achieve, they were going for something from an older generation of movies. A certain type that is hard not to miss since its blatantly obvious. You can throw influences at a film like Hitchcock and Polanski, but it doesn’t mean you’ll recreate some of the brilliant thrillers that they put out in their prime. Something Bryne tried to reinforce during the post-film Q&A. This is what In Darkness is trying so hard to be, a thriller in the vain of this but with a twist of the format. The so-called “Hitchcock Blonde” takes on the role of featured adventurer and person caught amid trouble. That’s not even where the ideas of Hitchcock ends, it takes a note out of Rear Window, albeit more of a “thin walls” kind of approach. Some visual nods to Psycho, for some reason, and there are also obvious tracks in the score which harken back to that of the Master of Suspense’s films.
It never lives up to the potential of these films it so desperately wants to be, always feeling like it is chasing that but never quite getting there. Dormer carries the movie but that is not enough to save it from a terrible fate. It reminded me more of later, more divisive Hitchcock, in that it has a good idea that is executed and written poorly.