In the early goings of The Dark, I found myself wondering aloud why this movie wasn’t given a theatrical release. After all, it features both Maria Bello and Sean Bean; both very capable actors who are just reaching their critical and commercial peaks (Bello, especially, who appears here hot off of an Oscar nomination for her turn in “A History of Violence”), solid direction by "Ginger Snaps" John Fawcett, and a gorgeous Welsh locale. But then, as the film’s plot slowly unfurled before me, it finally hit me as to why this film didn’t get a wide release. It already had one!
It was called The Ring.
Adele (Bello) and her daughter Sarah (Stuckey) are making the trek to hubby/father James’ (Bean) remote Welsh cottage for an extended visit. It seems that Adele and James are somewhat estranged after their individual pursuits have found them living on opposite sides of the Atlantic, and Sarah’s been suffering the brunt of it; most recently during a confrontation with Adele that led to her daughter’s unsuccessful suicide attempt. Almost as soon as they arrive at the cottage, Sarah finds herself drawn to a mysterious room in the attic, where she discovers a box of keys, as well as another sealed box. Sarah romanticizes her discovery as young girls are wont to do, and Adele, careful not to push her daughter any further away than she already has, lets the girl have this.
James’ resident handyman, Dafydd, tells Sarah and Adele the history of this house, and how its former occupant, The Shepard, was a twisted minister who led his followers off of a nearby cliff as a part of some sort of deranged religious ritual. Just as he explains this, Sarah is nearly run off of the cliff herself by a flock of suicidal sheep, which leads to our family scouring the beach for dead sheep bits. Adele discovers a pair of glasses and human jaw bone, while Sarah discovers that she can’t swim, and the young girl is sucked away by the churning ocean.
Shattered, James organizes a rescue party to try and find his daughter, while Adele finds herself looking elsewhere for her daughter after a visit from a strange little girl leads her to believe that it wasn’t the sea that took Sarah, but something far more nefarious.
The Dark is an extremely polished, slickly directed, and very well-acted film that renders itself pretty much obsolete thanks to the fact that this is a story that has already been told (twice) in even more polished, better directed, and just as decently acted films before. There are so many parallels to The Ring that it’s difficult to enjoy this film on its own merits, with mad sheep standing in for the Morgan’s horses, Maria Bello standing in for Naomi Watts, and Wales standing in for Seattle. Even the film’s antagonist, Ebrill (Stone), spends the majority of her time soaked, with long wet hair hanging in her face ala’ Samara. It’s as if everyone involved here were either completely unaware of The Ring, or simply refused to note the similarities.
So why, then, am I giving this film a borderline-decent review? Well, like I said, The Dark is a really well-made film, offers up some decent scares, and Maria Bello turns in a fantastic performance. Were this film to have come along before The Ring, I think this would have been one of those quiet little blockbusters on par with The Sixth Sense, but, sadly, this isn’t the case, and The Dark is, instead, dumped rather unceremoniously (and, perhaps, deservedly) onto DVD with next to no fanfare and an alternate ending serving as its lone extra. Still, this is probably the best direct-to-DVD horror film I've seen, as The Dark exhibits theatrical quality production values throughout (which lends some credence to my theory that the only reason this film wasn't given a theatrical release was that somebody in the upper ranks saw the same Ring similiarities as I did!).
If The Ring is your thing and you’ve welcomed its many imitators (Dark Water, anyone?), then The Dark will surely satisfy your “creepy ghost girl” jones. However, don’t say you haven’t been warned when The Dark crosses that thin line between passive imitator to unabashed emulator.