★★★1/2 out of ★★★★★
This ain’t no sparkly vampire.
Welcome to Ireland! Home of bogs, mud, and decidedly unstylish vampires. Writer/director Conor McMahon [Stitches (2012), Dead Meat (2004)] hits the refresh button on the vampire genre and breaks away from the fashionable, angsty, metrosexual vampires that have dominated vampire culture for a while now. Conor’s vampire is dirty, animalistic, and single-mindedly driven by hunger. It’s also extremely sensitive to all light sources, not just light from the Sun. Add it all up, and you’ve gotta hope your flashlight has fresh batteries in it.
Our movie opens with a farmer [Gerry O’Brien], cutting mud bricks from the bog. His brick production moves along smoothly until he hits something buried in the ground. He clears away the mud and, with a bit of muscle, manages to pull it free. Huh. It’s a sharpened wooden stake. Wonder what that could’ve been stuck in. Unfortunately for our farmer, in Conor’s vampire mythology, a stake in the heart doesn’t mean the end of the vampire. Sure, you can bury him in an Irish bog for a few hundred years, but once he’s stakeless… look out. Mr. Farmer comes down with a bad case of vampirism and returns home just in time for…
Our protagonists! Mark [Stephen Cromwell; The Hallow (2015), TV’s Red Rock] and Sarah [Niamh Algar; Without Name (2016)] have been spending the day driving through the beautiful Irish countryside headed somewhere for a lovely weekend getaway. Trouble is Mark doesn’t exactly know where he’s going. As the sun goes down, the couple finds themselves stuck in the mud on some back road deep in farm country. Not quite as romantic as it might have been. In their search for someone who might be able to pull their car out of the mud, they stumble upon the farmer’s house and find its occupant not having his best day ever. From there, things quickly go downhill for everyone involved.
From the Dark is a low-budget film that works well with its limited funds. There are all of four actors in the movie. Four. Ged Murray (who plays The Creature) also pulls grip duty behind the camera. Now that’s economical film making. The tension of the film comes almost entirely from the cat-and-mouse game between #TeamCreature and our navigationally challenged friends, Mark and Sarah. Special effects are minimal which keeps costs down, but also means that this is not a gore-heavy splatterfest. There are a couple well-placed jump scares and a lot of running, hiding, and near misses that keep the action sequences nice and taut.
Both the acting and writing in From the Dark are a notch above your standard hey-let’s-throw-a-movie-together fare. Niamh Algar does a fantastic job as smart ‘n scrappy Sarah and I found Ged Murray’s portrayal of The “Let’s Not Call it a Vampire” Creature to be satisfyingly bestial while still giving it that weird, otherworldly quality that one prefers to have in one’s vampires.
Once things truly get rolling, there’s very little dialog, but that doesn’t mean you can get away with bad writing. The actions of the characters are well thought out and make sense a lot more often than even in many big budget movies. Plus, with light sources playing such a key role in the survival of the friendlies in this movie, it’s fun to see what they manage to use next. Flashlights, cell phones, torches; the list goes on and on. Traps are set, gambits fail, and chances are taken by both sides of the predator/prey equation making it truly seem like this contest means life or death for everyone concerned.
The movie does suffer a wee bit with pacing issues at times; a little less time watching people catch their breath or bandage their wounds would probably have kept the tension levels higher and some of the camera work was mildly questionable, but these are all minor complaints. From the Dark is another fun romp that shows, yet again, that the Irish know horror and know how to deliver.