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FrightFest 2019: Dark Encounter

Director: Carl Strathie

Writer: Carl Strathie

Starring: Laura Fraser, Mel Raido, Alice Lowe

A year after the mysterious disappearance of their 8 year-old daughter, grieving Olivia and Ray return home with friends and family from her memorial service in their small town. Suddenly strange lights appear in the nearby forest and everyone is exposed to inexplicable phenomena shaking them all to the core. The origin of these weird incidents seems to be visitors from another world intent on terrorizing the family. But what they don’t realize is that these visitors will eventually lead them to an unexpectedly dark and disturbing truth - one destined to impact on their lives forever. Initial Reactions C. Yes, we all know Steven Spielberg from his hit film, 1941 but two years before its release he came out with a little gem called Close Encounters of the Third Kind. If you’ve heard of that film, you’ll recognize many similar technical and plot-device elements in Carl Strathie’s Dark Encounter. Personally, I like Close Encounters way more than Jaws, I know it’s a blasphemous thing to say in the horror community, so my drawing connections between the two movies may go unnoticed by others.  However, I feel Dark Encounter falls into the sad trend of movies/shows lately (*cough* Stranger Things *cough*) that are so obsessed with making sure the audience knows the director’s influences that they’re unable to stand alone as their own piece of fiction. Do we need a Close Encounters bright yellow lights shining through the windows and cracks in the door? The Interstellar stuck in a place between time and space sequence? Set in the 1980s? Are all of these things needed to tell the best version of your movie possible or are those things just in there to “fanboy-out” for 100 minutes? With a lot of these cases I find myself thinking if there’s going to be so many references to a beloved movie then I’ll just watch that instead. With my little rant out of the way, I think the first half of the movie is incredibly strong with a lot of great performances from some acting heavy hitters (special shoutout to Alice Lowe of Prevenge and Sightseers). Sadly a lot of the characters that seem the most developed and the story highlights are initially the first to disappear, leaving us with Olivia (Laura Fraser), who is either vastly underwritten or unable to carry the movie by herself. It felt like she’s a side character in her own story, even when she’s all alone. For reasons like that I’ll give Fraser the benefit of the doubt and assume it was an issue from the script. In the end, technically its strong with lots of cool lighting work, great acting from the supporting characters, and has a suspenseful first half. But it goes into well-known territory and relies too much on the past successes of cinematic giants that Dark Encounter is unable to stand on its own. J. Aliens really don’t like the human race.  And who can blame ‘em really.  Craig picked up on some astute observations about the film so I’m not going to rehash his take but this film was a sort of long winded way for aliens to basically tell a family that they (the aliens) weren’t responsible for a couple’s missing daughter.  And like goddamn Arrival of all things, the aliens are actually going to help the grieving family out but before that they are going to torment the ever loving shit out of them for some fucking reason.  Characters disappear and reappear out of fucking thin air more than once and then act like it’s a completely normal thing to happen.  They are dealing with aliens.  Another funny thing, not one character mentions the “A” word during the course of events.  Not.  Fucking.  Once.  Even though it’s pretty obvious that’s the antagonist they’re dealing with.  But wait, they really aren’t the antagonists, I forgot.  Too bad Amy Adams wasn’t there to help with understanding this one.  K.  Watching Dark Encounter it is clear that Carl Strathie, the writer-director, saw Close Encounters of the Third Kind and it had a profound impression on him.  This is understandable as it is a great film, Dark Encounter however is not.  The entire film seems to be an excuse to bathe the actors in orange and blue light and ask them to stare into the camera in Spielbergian wonder at some unseen marvel.  This pattern repeats. The actors do what they can, but unfortunately there is little story to speak of and no emotional entry point into the non-existent narrative.  The script is thin.  The lighting is fantastic.  That about sums it up.  Oh, I forgot to mention it’s set in the 1980s.  Nostalgia Porn checklist complete. Strathie should go back and watch Close Encounters again and take notes.  In the film, the audience experiences the first encounter right along with Roy Neary, no one else is present, as such we share an emotional experience with the protagonist and are thus bonded.  Then in subsequent scenes as the validity of Roy’s experience is questioned we are emotionally stirred, we feel personally attached because we shared that experience and can vouch for its authenticity.  This is how a story works.  This is not how Dark Encounter works.  No such emotional connection is created between the audience and the characters, instead we share the experience of watching a 90 minute lighting test. Response C. Dark Encounter suffers from the nostalgia craze that has been used a lot over the last few years, and like many of them they’re so focused on presenting the audience with easter eggs or homages of their influences that they forget to make the movie their own. This isn’t an exception. Despite a wonderful cast and the technical aspects looking/sounding great, it proves meaningless without substance and (as Kyle stated) an emotional connection. J. After the daughter goes missing in the first reel, there’s some intense family drama stuff that picks up a year later that I thought worked pretty well and then the alien shit starts and it remains strong and interesting up to about the 30 minute mark. I enjoyed the initial alien “attack” on the family house very much but then the downhill stuff starts, specifically after the first night is over. You’ve read the film that my two colleagues have likened this one to and I agree with them but for me, Arrival was too big an influence as well although not as prevalent. I actually sort of wish this was played out like aliens wanting to kill or abduct some family that lives in an isolated farm house and they have to fight back. I really think that would’ve been more entertaining. K. My biggest problem here was the filmmaker didn’t take his time to digest his influences and incorporate them into something new, instead we got a less interesting rehash. I felt like the initial drama of the missing daughter was okay but again they didn’t use that as a way to create emotional connections between the audience and the characters. I agree with Josh about Arrival being an influence and Interstellar, as Craig mentioned and I agree it probably would’ve been more interesting as a straight up alien abduction/siege film. The way it plays out with the ‘good aliens’ twist kind of makes the entire hour build-up a moot point. The idea that they took the daughter and came back to abduct the rest of the family isn’t the case, and the whole long sequence of the family running and hiding from the aliens, which is the bulk of the movie, was unnecessary too. Bloodhound’s average score: 1.5 out of 5

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