What’s it About?
A couple and their daughter moves to Colombia to take over a family manufacturing plant, only to realize their new home is haunted.
“Out of the Dark”
Directed by Lluís Quílez
“Out of the Dark” is the first full length feature film from Director Lluis Quilez. Quilez, throughout his career, has been predominately a second unit and AD, with a few shorts under his belt. The film, itself, a Spanish/American production, is a haunted house, ghost story as well as an eco thriller which takes place in the lush and tropical country of Colombia, South America.
Julia Stiles (The Omen, Bourne Supremacy), Stephen Rea (Interview with the Vampire) and Scott Speedman (Underworld) star as the movie’s three main protagonists. Sarah Harriman (Stiles) accepts a job position to become the CFO and GM of her father, Jordan’s (Rea), paper mill and factory, in Columbia. Accompanying her is her husband Paul(Speedman), who is an artist and their young daughter, Hannah, played the very cute Pixie Davies.
Upon arriving and after a mysterious prologue, which involves a Doctor confronting and being dispatched by what appears to be some creepy and elusive phantoms, Sarah and her family settle into the company’s large and rustic home. During much of the films first act Jordan helps the family adjust to the strange customs of the mysterious and indigenous people of the town. Jordan takes them around, and while giving them the tour, discusses and speaks about a tragedy that occurred many years before, involving a church, a now buried temple and band of small children that lost their lives.
The movie then dives right into establishing the culture, legends, philosophy and myths that is entrenched in this unique South American region. During a company dinner, Sarah, Jordan and Paul overlook a ceremony that honors the memory of the lost children. Along with the oppressive woods that surround the large house, and shadowy figures milling about, it becomes the beginning of a chilling and eye opening experience that puts Sarah, Paul and especially little Hannah in grave and mortal danger.
“Out of the Dark,” is apparently, heavily influenced by the films of Guillermo del Toro (The Devil’s Backbone) and even the singular Jaume Balaguero (Fragile, Darkness). The style, mood and heavy aerial texture are all here as well as the seemingly supernatural mystery that is at it’s heart. The film also relies, (successfully) heavily on it’s mystical, verdant and blossoming locale of Columbia. The overgrown, humid and hazy ambiguity is very present much to the credit of the film’s DP, Isaac Vila, who has a background in TV shows in Spanish. Unfortunately, what is missing in Quilez’ film is an engaging, unique and satisfying story.
The haunted house/ghost mystery is one of my favorite horror sub-genres and despite the numerous films in that particular area, only few excel in actually frightening or spooking us. To it’s discredit, “Out of the Dark” comes up short in that matter. Stiles, while very strong (and then vulnerable) at first, just has nothing to really work with and that goes equally for Speedman and Rea.
They portray the anxious and terrified parents of a missing child (Davies is the one with the real acting chops, here)very capably but never really have any way to shine or surpass what is basically a routine and by the numbers spook script. Because of this, the performances are too, by the numbers.
The obligatory scares are rather cheap and cliché and, frustratingly, they never really amount to anything. Which is a pet peeve of mine, by the way. Scare for the sake of a scare. The said, ghost children (part of the legend involves them and the celebration is called “La Fiesta del los Ninos Santos”), while appearing menacing and awful, just really stand around breathing coarsely and never really appear spectral, until the every end. Other than that they also spend too much precious time running circles around Speedman, who sleepwalks his way though this film as in a hypnotic trance, playing the somber “working from home” Dad and struggling artist.
But, it is not quite the casts’ fault since they have a bare-bone, predicable and repetitious mystery to become involved with and solve. What does not help either is the laborious and snail-like pace of the movie where we are hoping to see a more original fright jump than a reflection in a mirror or wet footprints on a bathroom floor. Quilez does take incredible advantage of the enigmatic and lush environment. He chooses to focus on the culture, sociology and ecology that will in turn affect the adults, and vaguely, the story.
A kind of mystery is at root beside the haunting of the Harrimans. Quilez instead, tries to push this dynamic but it never really solidifies or becomes relevant. We all can easily figure out things and we consistently are 2 to 3 steps ahead of our protagonists. The gravitas of the subject matter (which involves the Harriman paper mill and a connection to the children) and even the tropic surroundings are just not enough to jump start Speedman, Stiles and even Rea, into showing us what they’re made of in this genre. The story in places, is just too anemic and writer Javier Gullon is not able to sustain the needed elements to balance the main plot and it’s eco subplot.
“Out of the Dark” is a worthwhile film, if you are satisfied with how potentially good it may have been. The film surely looks amazing and the locale is hot, vivid and beautiful. The movie has the old world charm but no real substance to it’s core story. A legend and some big industry wrongdoing is not enough when you have the most banal types of scares and a story unfolding that a 7 year old can see coming a mile away.
The main cast is another reason to watch, but just barely. They interact well, emote appropriately, especially when it comes down to Hannah’s abduction. Rea is just fine with a very smooth and refined air of authority which is questioned in the last act of the film. And that’s about it, oh and little Pixie makes a great child in peril. She holds her own with everyone else. (Quilez’ exploration of the Harriman family dynamic isn’t too bad, either)
Ultimately, “Out of the Dark,” while looking nice and sustaining OK performances, cannot get off the ground. It’s to stuck in cheap fright, a slow and morose middle act and by the time the story and the “Poltergeist” type haunting comes to a head, one is going to look back and ask: “Did I miss something? Is this all there is?” Well, that is a good question and yes, that is all there is…
“Out of the Dark” clocks in at an economic 90 minutes, so, I would consider greatly as a rental and if you must purchase it then shop around when the movie hits VOD, blu ray or dvd. Just don’t expect to be either wowed or particularly frightened. The most frightening thing about the film is just how slow and un-scary it really is.
Thanks so much for the warning. So many horror tales seem to come up short. Sigh. An excellent review by the way!
Yeah, I have been hearing great things about “It Follows” I hope to catch that one soon. Perhaps it will wash away the bad taste this movie left behind. The thing is, is that the film is not completely terrible. It’s just so damn ordinary and rote. It is mechanical and boring where it could have been unique and frightening.
I appreciate you checking in, Bill. Always great to hear from you, man! Glad you liked the review. Good to be back to posting on a somewhat normal schedule!