The Dark Within
Directed by: David Ryan Keith
Run time: 88 minutes
The Lowdown: Wow.
If you love horror movies that pack an adrenaline-punch, that grab you by the collar and refuse to let go, then The Dark Within, the latest release from Uncork’d Entertainment is going to vault onto your shelf of most favorite new titles.
The Dark Within is special. Not only is it one of the best releases we’ve seen so far this year, it wears its influences on its sleeve in a way that still feels exciting and fresh without being derivative.
It also has a fantastic story that plumbs the depths of a rarely used paranormal premise, remote viewing, in a way that feels wholly original.
Remote viewing, for those not in the know, is the ability of certain, select people to use an extrasensory perception to “see” impressions of something that they otherwise should have no knowledge of due to that target’s geographical location or its place in the established timeline of normal events.
The Dark Within opens in a secret laboratory where men and women, some of them members of the military, are participating in an experiment. The lead scientist, Dr. Andrew Blaine, watches from afar with his son, Marcus, who also appears to be taking part.
As Marcus draws a screaming skull face on a piece of paper, one of the test subjects, Stewart (Mark Wood), also sees the same thing, just before he begins expelling the creature out of his mouth like a fiery dragon blasting open a portal to Hell.
The film then time jumps forward. Marcus (Paul Flannery) is now grown and he’s become pretty much a dick. He treats his therapist like garbage, even though he’s mandated to see her as part of his parole terms after he lost his shit on his girlfriend Sarah (Kendra Carelli). More so, Marcus is still furious at being abandoned by his parents as a child, even though he can’t remember exactly what happened. Oh, and he’s an artist and guess what his sole focus is? That’s right, drawing screaming skull face.
Marcus’ therapist, Dr. Norton (Stephanie Lynn Styles, channeling her best mid-80’s Tawny Kitaen), recommends that he visit his parent’s remote cabin to try and find closure.
We all know that’s never a good idea, especially since she’s basically leaving him at the cabin with no wheels and no way to leave for at least three days.
Once all the basic building blocks are in place, The Dark Within wastes little time kicking into high gear. Marcus discovers a hidden tape recorder with a single cassette. The words on the tape are garbled, but the basic gist is that the experiments have gone terribly with the discovery of a horrible, unexpected side effect: The test subjects have remote viewed an evil entity and essentially summoned it into our world.
Then the spooky stuff starts. Marcus is led by an unseen force to another hiding place outside of the cabin. A single vial of a fluorescent green serum that he remembers taking as a child.
He immediately drinks it.
And, folks, from this point on, it’s best you make sure you don’t need a bathroom break because holy hell, shit gets real bad real quick.
It’s clear director David Ryan Keith and co-writer Flannery have a deep love for films like The Evil Dead, and I guarantee you’re going to love how they incorporate certain aspects of Sam Raimi’s masterpiece into the fabric of The Dark Within, but there’s so much that happens in the film’s second and third acts that I don’t dare spoil any of the surprises.
Keith and Flannery display a confidence that’s truly rare in today’s independent horror market. In fact, with the exception of Joe Begos (Almost Human, The Mind’s Eye), I can’t think of another director who goes this balls-out-for-broke and still sticks the landing every time.
Keith does a masterful job of using special effects sparingly early on, but when it comes time for screaming skull face to make his first full-body appearance, you will be grinning and gasping simultaneously. The practical effects are simply outstanding.
More so, you actually come to care what happens to Marcus and Sarah, and even if you think you know where The Dark Within is going, trust me, you don’t have a clue.
Buckle up, boils and ghouls. This one is going to rock your world. Repeat viewings are all but guaranteed.
The Stuff You Care About:
Hot chicks – Yes.
Nudity – No.
Gore – Yes.
Drug use – No.
Bad Guys/Killers – When you remote view an evil entity, be prepared for what you unleash.
Buy/Rent – Buy it.
Mia and the White Lion (Shout! Factory, 98 minutes, PG, Blu-Ray): For those of us at a certain age, it’s easy to remember going to the movies back when the amount of quality live-action films produced for kids and teenagers was particularly impressive.
I can still vividly remember watching films like The Apple Dumpling Gang, Oh, Heavenly Dog, Savannah Smiles and the re-issue of Born Free at the theater.
These days, most movies produced for younger viewers tend to be animated, which is why Mia and the White Lion is such a welcome, and refreshing change. Shot over several years to allow child actors Daniah De Villiers and Ryan Mac Lennon to form an actual bond with the lion cubs and other animals shown in the film, Mia and the White Lion is a solid adventure that the whole family can enjoy together.
The Best of Enemies
This Island Earth
Not to be Overlooked:
8 Ball Clown (5th Underground, 90 minutes, Unrated, DVD): Clowns have always been creepy, but in the past two years, following the release of It, which re-introduced the world to a much darker, more malevolent Pennywise, they become downright terrifying again.
In addition to It, writer-director Damien Leone struck gory gold with Terrifier, which spun off a character, Art the Clown, from his earlier anthology, All Hallows Eve, for a solo adventure that now appears poised to become a franchise.
And, now, along comes 8 Ball Clown, the debut of director Alexander Shell, which takes creepy clowns to an entirely new level.
I have to say, and this is me being completely honest, as someone who actually thinks A Serbian Film is a jarringly effective slice of exploitation cinema, I don’t know that I’ve ever been as physically and emotionally unnerved as I was watching the first 45 minutes of 8 Ball Clown.
The film opens on 8 Ball (Jacob Le Doux) dragging a child by the hair through a field. That should be your first indication.
The second is 8 Ball himself, who blacks out his eye for an enormously unsettling effect. 8 Ball kills his victims in a very specific fashion: He literally OD’s them to death, but first allows them to get hooked on the sweet poisonous kiss of the heroin he shoots into their veins. Once they’re dead, he dresses his victims like clowns and paints their faces.
In the first 10 minutes of the film, he captures a pregnant woman who responds to a fake classified ad for baby toys. By the 12 minute, 44 second mark, 8 Ball is literally cutting the newborn out of the pregnant momma’s belly.
That may be a new world’s record for how quickly a movie can bypass all sense of decency and plant a flag firmly in moral depravity.
Now, just so you know, 8 Ball Clown is clearly a low-budget, DIY-type film, but it wears its amateur trappings with pride. The pregnant woman’s belly is, literally, the worst fake pregnant belly you’ve ever seen, but that still doesn’t diminish the shock of what you’re seeing.
Don’t worry, the baby’s going to be perfectly fine, 8 Ball tells the horrified mother. I’ve done this many times before.
If you’re wondering whether 8 Ball Clown the movie would be so despicable, so immoral, as to show a clown shooting up a newborn with heroin, well, the short answer is of course.
It kind of helps that the fake baby prop is the worst fake baby you’ve ever seen, but still, you simply can’t un-see some things, regardless of whether you know they’re not real.
On and on, and over and over, 8 Ball Clown keeps pumping nightmare fuel into your brain. It’s not simply horrifying enough to consider what you would do if trapped in such a situation, confronted with a deranged psychopath with a hypodermic needle and a mean streak a mile wide, oh no.
Shell shoots large chunks of 8 Ball Clown in such as a way as to mimic what it’s like to feel like you’re completely fucked up on drugs.
Seriously, there are stretches of 8 Ball Clown that perfectly mirror the effects of a psychotropic, so much so that you feel disoriented and off-balance.
Shell also chooses to film several scenes in such a way that it’s like watching a Paul Greengrass thriller where the camera becomes an extension of your own eyes and you feel as if you’re actually in the movie.
If 8 Ball Clown was a virtual reality experience, I’m pretty sure you might go insane.
Now, I hate to report that the second half of 8 Ball Clown pales in many ways to its ridiculously intense first half, but that’s okay by me. You almost need the come-down that is afforded once the actual plot kicks in.
I can confidently say that 8 Ball Clown is not a movie for everyone, but for those who thrive on such visceral experiences, it’s a true diamond in the rough waiting to be discovered, and it marks Shell as a director to watch. I shudder to think what he might create and unleash if he’s ever given a proper budget and additional resources for special effects.