In the Old Stone Age, a disparate gang of early humans band together in search of a new land. But when they suspect a malevolent, mystical being is hunting them down, the clan are forced to confront a danger they never envisaged.
A stunner from beginning to end, Andrew Cumming’s “Out of Darkness” is a visually arresting, consistently surprising movie that slowly reveals its true intent, its third-act twist transcending its genre conventions. While it is being promoted as a horror film, and certainly contains elements from works of that sort, Cumming and his co-writers Ruth Greenberg and Oliver Kassman has an agenda that extends beyond effective jump scares or creating moments that get under the viewer’s skin. With an intricate sound design and cinematography that often accents shadows over light, this is a film that demands to be seen in a theater.
Set 45,000 years ago, a small group of primitive beings have broken away from their tribe to strike out to lands unknown. After surviving an ocean voyage, they find the land of their dreams is a barren, hostile environment that lacks prey and is subjected to harsh weather. Their leader, Adem (Chuku Modu) after promising to takes these outcasts to a land of plenty, does all he can to keep their faith and allegiance, yet he’s taken to lashing out at them in frustration. His pregnant wife Ave (Iola Evans) can no longer reach him, while it becomes impossible for his son, Heron (Luna Mwezi) to please him. Odal (Arno Luning), the eldest of the group, is breeding division with his constant complaining, while Geirr (Kit Young) is falling short of being the second-in-command he’s expected to be. As for the stray they’ve allowed to travel with them, Beyah’s (Safia Oakley-Green) outsider status is starting to become a detriment while food and water remain scarce.
The sense of tension between the group reaches a breaking point and is exacerbated when they realize something is following them. And when Heron is snatched by something in the dark, the dynamic between them crumbles, every member turning on the other as fear and desperation sets in, each wondering who will be the next plucked away by the bellowing, unseen thing in the dark.
Cumming employs little in the way of light throughout much of the film, he and his cinematographer Ben Fordesman seemingly dependent on only the meager campfires the characters build. Tight shots are employed during the nighttime scenes which limit our vision even more. This, coupled with the layered sound design createss a genuinely unnerving atmosphere that will likely have viewers’ hands slowly creeping towards their face in an effort to shield their eyes from what comes next. Cumming doesn’t disappoint, one effective jolt coming after the other, the suspense nearly unbearable.
Yet, as the film progresses, “Darkness” proves not to be a monster movie as much of an examination of how people behave under stress. As their numbers dwindle and the threat becomes more foreboding, the true behavior of those who are left emerges. While some are willing to work in concert to survive, others look out solely for themselves, willing to compromise anyone who might stand in their way.
Much like the criminally overlooked 2017 feature “It Comes at Night,” the focus shifts from the outside threat to the monsters that live within the group. An effective plot twist late in the film powerfully drives this home as previous assumptions, both on our and the characters’ parts, are proven horribly wrong, with tragic results. Appearances, coupled with preconceived notions, prove dangerous and we let them obscure the truth about those we perceive as enemies as well as though we trust as allies. In the end, “Darkness” reminds us that our fear not only breeds hate and violence but leads to our own destruction as well, a lesson that continues to go unheeded.
3 1/2 Stars