Audrey Cummings’much anticipated follow-up to her stirring Berkshire County is a high concept science fiction story set in a strange world not too far off from our own. Darken is the type of film that one could easily see as a trilogy or a 13-part series on one of the numerous streaming services.
Hopefully Cummings and screenwriter RJ Lackie will give thought to expanding their tale because there is plenty for viewers to chew on. In fact, if there is one flaw with Lackie’s script it is that it is packed with too much stuff.
One spends so much time trying to figure out the various narrative strands at play that it sometimes takes away from the more creative aspects of the film.
The story involves a nurse named Eve (Bea Santos), who is coping with having recently lost a patient, accidently being transported to the realm of Darken. A dystopian world that seems to be comprised of a labyrinth of rooms, the inhabitants of Darken are governed by a stern priestess, Clarity (Christine Horne), who demands their loyalty to “Mother Darken.” Believing that the outside world is in ruins, the presence of Eve is interpreted as both a positive and negative sign of Mother Darken’s mercy by the various individuals within the mysterious land.
Aided by two “exiled” individuals, Kali (Oluniké Adeliyi) and Mercy (Zoë Belkin), Eve attempts to navigate this violent land while searching for a way home.
The notion of a world made up of a series of rooms is a fascinating one. Similar to Vincenzo Natali’s Cube, the potential for danger in each new room helps to add to the tension in the film. However, Cummings never fully utilizes the wealth of options the film’s setting provides. Partly because she needs to spend a large spends the bulk of time trying to ensure that the various strands in the script connect.
Where the film excels though is in both its social commentary and its casting. Just as in her previous film, Cummings manages to weave in some thought provoking commentary into Darken. She forces audiences to contemplate the nature of faith, and the way it is often used to corrupt and control others. These themes would not land as well as they do if it were not for the strong performances by Santos, Horne, Belkin and Adeliyi (who was also great in The Drop In this year). These women not only keep our interest in the story, but also bring a welcome amount of zeal to the action sequences as well.
Darken’s plot may be a little too ambitious for one film, but Cummings and crew know how to make it entertaining. Hopefully they will have an opportunity to flesh out several of the film’s themes in future projects. Given more time to evolve the story this could turn into a fantastic franchise.
Sunday, November 26, 7 PM, The Royal Cinema
Full Blood in the Snow ticket information can be found at the festival’s website.