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Monday, June 29, 2015

Dark Touch (2013) – Review

The “creepy child” is one of the staples of horror films, and in writer/director Marina de Van's Dark Touch we are introduced to a very creepy one indeed.  That the film’s center theme is about child abuse is certainly a bold choice, a great topic for a horror film and kind of makes it a step-sister to Brian De Palma’s Carrie, but unfortunately the de Van’s movie derails itself about halfway through and never recovers.


The plot concerns eleven year old Niamh (Missy Keating) who we first see fleeing down a road on a dark and stormy night (are there any other kind of nights in horror movies) and she has clearly been traumatized by something. She arrives at the neighbors Nat (Marcella Plunkett) and Lucas Gatlin (Pádraic Delaney) in a hysterical state and bleeding from the mouth. They return Niamh to her parents because they are completely blind to the fact that Niamh is clearly an abused child.

She bit a chunk out of her tongue again? Oh what a scamp my Niamh is.”

I’m not sure where in Ireland this movie is supposed to take place but it is a dreary hellscape populated with child abusers, incompetent authorities, a couple of well-meaning but criminally stupid people, and one telekinetic time bomb just waiting to go off. The colour palette for the film is beyond subdued to the point where almost every piece of wardrobe is a drab washed-out grey.

Are these kids in school or prison?

When one night the house seems to come alive and brutally kill Niamh’s parents we are left wondering if it was evil spirits in the house or something more dangerous. The police believe it to be a gang of psychopaths and that Niamh’s statement “It was the house” to be just the workings of a child’s traumatized mind. Turns out they were half right as the murders were due to the workings of a child’s traumatic mind. Whenever Niamh gets upset things move and people get hurt. When Nat and Lucas take newly orphaned Niamh into their home they paint a target on themselves. The film then takes a strange twist as Niamh “sleepwalks” one night and with her telekinetic powers murders an abusive mother of two of Niamh’s classmates.

So she is Carrie the vigilante superhero now?

At this point we are still on Niamh’s side as we can sympathize with her and understands how the horrible things done to her have damaged her psyche, but then when she mind whammies a bunch of children at a birthday party before setting a pile of dolls on fire we start wondering, “Just what is her deal?” She has telekinesis and mind control abilities and uses them against other children for… reasons?
And now she has The Woman in Black "forced suicide" power.

Later she Pied Pipers all the kids in town, leading them into the school and then collapses the building, killing them all. This leaves us without a clue as to the what and why events are happening. I’m not one who needs everything spelled out for me, and ambiguous evil can work great in a horror movie, but there has to be some rhyme or reason to what is going on. and the last act of this movie goes right off the rails leaving the viewer with nothing to grasp onto. I don’t care that we never learn how Niamh gained these powers, but her abilities and motives change so rapidly and come so far out of left field it leaves one confused and stranded. The final showdown is between her and the Gatlin’s who she wrongly believes killed their first daughter and she is joined by the two school kids she saved earlier, who are either mind controlled or willingly decided to join Niamh in some kind Manson Family affair. We don’t know and we never find out. So at the end we are just left depressed and confused.

"I'd explain my brilliant plan, but I'm just so bored."

Marina de Van has created a very atmospheric and moody piece, but it seems like we are missing many key bits of information, and that maybe an entire middle act was lost to the cutting room floor. There is a kind and sympathetic social worker at Niamh’s school that appears to be one of the few people Niamh bonds with but she and her husband, also a teacher at the school, vanish from the movie never to be seen again giving all their scenes together no real purpose. There is a seed of a great movie here but it was sadly overwatered by the weirdness Marina de Van kept powering on and it died on the vine. I give the director credit for trying to do something different within the genre but the lack of any resolution of any kind hampers the film beyond my tolerance levels.

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