Bopping with Niall JP O'Leary

Niall O'Leary insists on sharing his hare-brained notions and hysterical emotions. Personal obsessions with cinema, literature, food and alcohol feature regularly.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Dark Hours

The Dark HoursThe Dark Hours - as opposed to Hollywood's The Dark years
Haven't we heard this one before? A doctor with responsibility for dangerous criminals apparently takes her work home with her when two psychos turn up at her log cabin and proceed to terrorise her, her husband and pretty sister. Psychos? Log cabin? Terrorised family? Hmmmmm. But then is all really as it seems to be?
Released in 2005, low-budget Canadian thriller, "The Dark Hours", tempted me with its 80 minute running time. The title hints at William Wyler's classic, "The Desperate Hours", a movie also about a suburban family taken hostage by some escaped convicts, but there is more going on here than a straight-forward remake. In fact this probably has more in common with Haneke's "Funny Games", another story of suburbanites being terrorised by sociopaths. That movie was offensively sadistic and iconoclastic to make a very simple point. This movie also has some unpleasant scenes, but the violence is integral to the story and the characters, an authentic expression of inner guilt. It doesn't have the time to dwell on its themes of responsibility and conscience, but it is sincere in exploring them. The audience, in their identification with the female lead, are made to question their relationship with the screen violence while also being appropriately distanced narratively (as opposed to using the almost Brechtian shenanigans Hanneke employed). Ironically it makes the point "Funny Games" wanted to make in a more intelligent, complex and satisfying way.
And it's scary. You may think you've seen this kind of thing before, but it never fails to set the pulse racing. And then, you haven't seen this kind of thing before, because without wanting to give too much away, this is a cleverly written film that also boldly chooses to play with reality. (Actually its tricksy plot makes writing about the story very difficult; I hate giving away spoilers.) In support of this brave agenda a cast of unknowns give very solid performances, providing flesh for some well-developed characters. Characters! Imagine that! The score too shoots above its station.
So we have a cleverly written, thoughtful, tensely directed, well-acted movie with a nice 'Shining'-like score. It therefore came as a shock to me to discover that it made €423 in the US on its release in 2005. That's €423. €423. Could you read that? $423. Apparently distributors didn't really distribute it. Presumably as a result, that cast of unknowns are still largely unknowns. They get work, but.... (For instance, Iris Graham, the 'Pretty Sister', seems to have hit the big time playing Emily's sister in "The Exorcism of Emily Rose". What? Exactly.) The director, one Paul Fox, is a TV director. The scriptwriter of that nicely crafted screenplay? Wil Zmak got a few TV story editing gigs. I think Lucas made "Star Wars - Episode 3" in 2005. He might have spent $423 on a coffee.
I'm not trying to make any great claims for "The Dark Hours". It is a B-movie in the classic tradition. It's better than "Funny Games", but anything would be. It doesn't disgrace its reference to Wyler's masterpiece, but it will never be remade itself. And for all the good storytelling, you will see the end coming well, well before you get there. But "The Dark Hours" is far, far from bad too. Very far. It, and everyone attached to it, did an excellent job. I just wish it hadn't gone so gently into that dark night.

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