Stream to Scream: “FROM THE DARK”Fearful Features,Movies/TV,News Ken W. Hanley
With so many films coming out in the independent horror scene for one reason or another, it’s easy for little genre gems to fall through the cracks. While many of these films eventually make it to streaming services for the masses to consume, it’s still a bit disappointing that often that’s too little, too late in terms of supporting the film theatrically or via VOD. In essence, when you discover a film like the Irish vampire flick FROM THE DARK, it’s the kind of horror film you should actively attempt to support post-streaming as Conor McMahon proves he’s got the filmmaking chops to deliver something bold in the genre’s future.
There are a few aspects to FROM THE DARK that makes particularly memorable, the first of which is the filmmaker’s use of restraint. FROM THE DARK is a creature feature that, akin to JAWS, is very particular about when- and how much- to show its main antagonist, often offering an out-of-focus, NOSFERATU-esque shape that ominously lurks in the background. Wisely, this allows the film to shift gears with its horror ever so effectively: when a film hides its monster, unexpected moments of brutality are all the more shocking, especially when the film otherwise offers an atmospheric and tense game of cat-and-mouse. Furthermore, FROM THE DARK may be considered by some to be a “slow burn” exercise, but this writer would argue that there’s just enough action on display to break up the slower, quieter moments, especially as the film becomes more ambitious in its execution.
Speaking of, FROM THE DARK exudes some ambitious craftsmanship in its staging, with extra credit going to Michael Lavelle’s stunning cinematography. Often using the natural darkness to their behest, Lavelle and McMahon brilliantly make background reveals and establish the stark reality around our characters, which makes the fantastical moments all the more effective upon execution. Furthermore, while FROM THE DARK does employ limited locations, Lavelle and McMahon make the low-budget film look like a major production, balancing claustrophobic close-ups next to grander shots of the natural countryside for our characters to explore. And likewise, when playing with that visual relationship between close-up and wide shots, it does sell moments of agency and desperation much better, especially once our leading lady stops running and begins fighting back.
But perhaps what makes FROM THE DARK a truly refreshing experience is how little “horror movie” necessities are peppered throughout. McMahon trusts the audience’s knowledge of vampire lore, and doesn’t try to throw in heavy exposition about where the creature came from, how it operates or how it is specific to this area. In addition, when the horror of the situation becomes apparent to the characters, there’s no discussion as to what the creature is or how to defeat it as the movie simply becomes a fight for survival, with the sole tool of combat being fairly obvious almost immediately. FROM THE DARK spares the audience with needless, tired vampire tropes, instead offering an experience more sold on performance and ambient dread than hero moments.
Speaking of the performances, FROM THE DARK sports some excellent turns by its limited cast, anchored by a fantastic Niamh Algar as our lead protagonist. Algar sells every moment of despair, terror and pain with a naturalistic passion, made even more impressive by how much physicality the role demands throughout the film. Meanwhile, Stephen Cromwell is solid as her significant other, and the eventual duality of his role is an impressive feat to pull off. And the largely silent performances of Gerry O’Brien and Ged Murray are also impressive, especially the latter who throws himself into an almost inhuman predatory state as the main antagonist.
Overall, FROM THE DARK is an incredibly well made and supremely creepy vampire film that eschews exposition and cheap scares. Conor McMahon, whose previous fare was over-the-top horror comedy, shows off some impressive chops as a director of straightforward horror, ramping up the atmosphere and even the occasional bit of gruesomeness when pertinent to the story. And with the film so widely available on streaming services, currently playing on Netflix, Hulu, Shudder, one can hope FROM THE DARK catches fire with fright fans as to aid McMahon bring more visceral visions such as this to the screen.