FrightFest 2020: Dark Place review

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A new anthology horror movie, here’s our review of Dark Place, that made its UK debut at FrightFest 2020 in August.

This one caught me off guard.

Dark Place is an Australian horror anthology that tells stories that relate to Aboriginal Australians. It’s a series of segments linked by title cards rather than a wrap-around or framing device. It’s not a film that I had on my radar, I’m not familiar with the filmmakers and I hadn’t heard any kind of buzz about it ahead of seeing it. What a brilliant surprise it turned out to be.

There are writing and directing credits for Kodie Bedford, Perun Bonser, Rob Braslin, Liam Phillips and Bjorn Stewart. Together, they’ve crafted as taut and inventive a horror anthology as I’ve seen. The segments themselves are all interesting and unique, but before we talk about them I want to draw attention to the craftsmanship on display in Dark Place.

This is a beautiful film that features an effective score and some really brilliant sound design. There’s no bloat to it, either. The writing is economic, the pacing is steady and there’s no excess air or time in the film. When we sit down and watch a big blockbuster movie, we know that they’ve often been made to meet a release date, resulting in a rush to just try to get the thing made in time. In the case of Dark Place, it feels like the material has been really worked at every step of the process. The is writing polished, the shooting precise and the edit tidy.

Something that really stands out about Dark Place is how clever the construction is. The first two stories are different in substance but offer a similar tone and colour palette. The next fits the tone but changes the colour palette. With each story pulling the unifying elements away, you end up on unsteady ground, unsure of how the filmmakers will send you stumbling off balance next.

The disparity in tone and style between the first and final segments is huge. Yet, because each segment is so good at being what it is, it gives the film a real feel of exciting unpredictability rather than making you feel disoriented. The first two segments really are very strong (they all are, I should highlight), which allows you to build trust in the filmmakers and to anticipate that while change is coming, it’s likely to bring about something interesting.

And like any well-curated playlist, the changes in the tone and style create a pleasant rhythm to Dark Place. There’s no jolting or clumsiness in the switches between the stories. Perhaps, you could argue, the final segment (‘Killer Native’) does give you a rather sudden spin, but the content of that segment draws on genre tropes that make it fair game.

Rather than united by any particular tone or look, then, the stories are tied together by way of their theme.

The only really frustrating element of reviewing Dark Place is that it is a rich, interesting film that it’s hard to do it any sort of justice without getting into spoilers, and yet to include anything more than vague allusions would serve to compromise your experience of viewing it. Dark Place is a brilliant, impactful film. In a couple of the stories, there’s a subtext to the story boiling up so close to the surface that it all but bubbles over and onto the screen. It’s the sort of film you want to pick over once you’ve seen it.

Dark Place is a fresh, striking, stand-out horror anthology. It’s a fascinating exploration of a (to this writer) unfamiliar subject that showcases how flexible a genre horror can be. We strongly recommend you seek this one out once it hits a proper UK release.

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