DARK (2016) Review

Directed by: Nick Basile
Starring: Whitney Able, Alexandra Breckenridge, Michael Eklund, Brendan Sexton III

Set in NYC during the blackout of 2003, Kate, a struggling 30-something model with a troubled past, has just moved into her girlfriend Leah's Brooklyn loft, but already doubts about their relationship have begun to loom. When Leah leaves for the weekend, Kate unexpectedly finds herself alone in the apartment in the midst of the worst blackout in North American history. As darkness falls over the city, Kate's paranoia grows and she begins to believe someone in the building is stalking her. With no one to help her and escape out of reach, Kate is forced to confront her deepest fears as she fights to survive through the night”

On August 14th, 2003 the Northeast Blackout struck the U.S and Canada. Large areas including New York City ground to a halt as the world's second most widespread blackout in history took down water supplies, transportation routes, oil refineries, cell towers and just about anything else you could think of. Wall Street, the UN Headquarters and emergency services all took a hit. City streets became parking lots and people flooded the streets on foot to avoid the gridlock. Power to some locations was restored within hours but, as the night settled in, most of New York City was left in the DARK.

Although the NYC blackout was a real life occurrence, the events that unfold in DARK are completely fictional. But fictional as they may be, they are also entirely plausible, and the realism of this story is what makes it so tense and frightening. How would somebody with mental health issues and a history of self harm deal with a situation where not only are they all alone in a new place, but now also in the dark with no cell phone or internet access? When the lights go out in a city of millions is the real danger lurking in the shadows? Among the strangers walking the streets? Or in your own mind?

Kate (Able) is a yoga instructor and former model who has just moved into her girlfriend Leah's (Breckenridge) NY apartment. Despite their obvious relationship issues Leah leaves the city to spend some time with family, leaving Kate alone in the apartment to finish unpacking and settling in. But after dropping and breaking a glass of orange juice, and a quick trip to the store to pick up some paper towel, the power drops out. Kate gets back home and discovers that not only is the power out in her apartment, it's out in the whole city.
After a number of run-ins with her strange neighbour John (Sexton), Kate is convinced that she is being stalked. But is it all just in her head?

DARK opens with a lesbian sex scene, which is a risky move that could so easily go wrong and so often does in films. But somewhat remarkably the opening minutes of the movie treat the scene in a totally organic, non gratuitous way. My girlfriend even noted how impressed she was to see a lesbian scene being used as character development, rather than just “tits slapping together”.
This opener shows the audience that the relationship between the protagonist and her partner is perhaps not going quite as smoothly as they might hope.
And since for the majority of its running time Kate is the only person on camera, the character development is incredibly important. There is barely a scene that goes by that doesn't in some way give you a glimpse of her personality, her history, or her state of mind. No matter whether she is unpacking her personal items or getting drunk and trying to pick up at a bar, the scenes all serve a purpose.

In respects to the technical side of the film, it's all pretty solid. The acting is good (Whitney Able's portrayal of a woman in the midst of a psychotic break is indeed impressive - and it's nice to Brendan Sexton as Kate's creepy neighbour, I swear I haven't seen him since SESSION 9) and the pacing is consistent (although I imagine much slower than a lot of people would like). The use of dark and light is handled well, and the slow burn pace does a good job of ratcheting up the tension.
As a package DARK is really well put together, and with shades of Polanski's REPULSION and THE TENANT, it's not the kind of movie that we see often enough these days.

Unfortunately I think the biggest issue with DARK is the way it's been marketed. From the artwork especially; DARK looks like it has its sights set squarely on the horror market, and although it certainly fits somewhat in the horror genre, I can just imagine people going into this movie and coming out disappointed because they expected something completely different.
If gore and jump scares are what you're looking for then you'll have to go elsewhere, but if you want a nice, brooding psychological thriller then DARK is well worth a look.