Written by: Matt Patti | February 8th, 2024
Out of Darkness (Andrew Cumming, 2022) 2½ out of 5 stars
Are you afraid of the dark? You’re not alone. Humanity has feared darkness since its inception, and for good reason.
Imagine facing complete darkness but having truly no idea what could be awaiting you in it. This is the dilemma of a group of humans living in the stone age in director Andrew Cumming’s debut feature, Out of Darkness. Without the knowledge we have today of what actually lives in the dark, they freeze up when an unseen force terrorizes them at night.
The film begins in a clever way, with a group huddled around a campfire. The clan has five members; the leader is Adem (Chuku Modu, Trains Bound for the Sea), a strong, experienced hunter. His son, Heron (Luna Mwezi) asks to be told a story. While other group members are reluctant, the oldest of the group, a weaker man named Odal (Arno Lüning), agrees to tell him one.
Odal spins a yarn about a community of hunters who went to their typical hunting spot but found no prey. Hungry and desperate, most turned around and went in the opposite direction. However, one small group decided to go far off the beaten path, to a land across the sea that was the location of many childhood bedtime stories.
The viewer slowly begins to realize that Odal’s tale is based on the squad’s current predicament, and the plan to stray far away from their known lands was one proposed by Adem. Odal ends his story by saying that Adem promised them food and shelter, but has not delivered on that promise.
In addition to gathering nourishment and finding a safe, warm place to settle, the group has another issue. At night, they hear movements and shrieks in the surrounding forests. One night, Heron is suddenly taken from the group by an unseen being, dragged into the darkness. Enraged and concerned, Adem will stop at nothing to get his son back, even if it means putting the group in severe danger.
Out of Darkness is very well-made in terms of technical qualities. It features stunning cinematography, a clever use of light and the lack of it, and unique sound design. The special effects are also quite good, although a bit too gory for my taste, at times.
In terms of the plot, Out of Darkness is a bit mixed. Some story elements work well, while others do not at all. The most intriguing aspect of the film is not the environment, nor the dangers that face our main characters, but rather how each character interacts with one another.
The group is not a family nor friends, simply different people coming together in order to survive. Adem is the leader of the group but only because of his survival skills. The other members don’t respect him as a person, and one can see why, as he is borderline abusive and very self-centered.
What’s even more fascinating is how the different group members behave when Adem is off hunting or not in the immediate area. Without a clear dominating force, they descend into chaos and anarchy. It’s quite clear that none of these people particularly like each other, but are only together as a matter of circumstance and convenience.
Sadly, while this intrigue is the main focus for much of the runtime, a third-act twist completely turns the plot on its head. While sometimes this makes for a surprising and exciting moment, in this case it works to the film’s detriment. Instead of shedding further light on previous events, the unnecessary reveal raises more questions than answers about everything the viewer witnesses.
While the twist doesn’t make sense, what happens afterward for the remainder of Act 3 only further drains the film of its quality. Several head-scratching moments and unbelievable events occur relating to the new plot point introduced, jumping the shark quite a few times. Worse, the conclusion spends much of its time over-explaining the twist and how it occurs, which wouldn’t be necessary if it wasn’t such a far-fetched notion.
Overall, it’s quite difficult for me to rate Out of Darkness. I truly can’t recall any recent film that I’ve felt more mixed on than this one. With stunning cinematography, compelling characters, and intriguing conflict, one would imagine the film would be easy to recommend.
It would succeed easily if not for the complete 180˚ turn it does in the third act. Sadly, the strange reveal and subsequent decline in quality dramatically alter the film, leaving a bad taste in the mouth upon the roll of the credits.
Will others have the same experience as I did? Will they like the film overall and excuse the ending, or will the conclusion completely ruin the rest of the film for them? I’d imagine it will be a very divisive film, but that is a shot in the dark.