IN DARKNESS: Audible Tension Subsides Due To Silly Revelations
In Darkness could have been an exciting thriller with a complex, well-written female protagonist but it instead ends up being a convoluted and messy misfire.
Upon hearing about In Darkness, what immediately caught my interest was that adored Game of Thrones actress Natalie Dormer had co-written the film with her husband (and the film’s director) Anthony Byrne. Dormer has spoken about the decision to write her first film, stating that she embarked on the new career path due to her frustration with the lack of well-written, three-dimensional female roles in the scripts she was being sent. With this in mind, I began watching In Darkness with hopes of the film being not only a solid thriller, but also a showcase for a deserving actress in a truly great role.
It brings me no pleasure to say that In Darkness ultimately fails on both fronts, despite a really solid first act.
A Disappointingly Conventional Female Role
The film follows Sofia (Dormer), a deeply gifted pianist who is also blind. Sofia lives in an elaborate London apartment complex where she frequently runs into Veronique (Emily Ratajkowski), a secretive woman with troubling family ties. Sofia’s life is thrown into turmoil when she hears an altercation involving her neighbor which results in Veronique jumping – or being pushed – out of her apartment window and falling to her death. This event leads to Sofia being pursued by many mysterious figures, all harboring their own hidden agendas. One such figure is Marc (Ed Skrein), a man who was involved with Veronique and whose intentions are unknown.
If there was one thing that I was expecting In Darkness to hit out of the park, it was delivering a complex, exciting female character in Sofia. Things start out pretty well: we are introduced to Sofia during an impressive piano performance and follow her day-to-day, with much detail paid to her unique experiences as a blind woman in a densely populated city. It is when Veronique dies and the thriller aspects of the film kick in that Sofia begins to lose much of her complexity. Slowly but surely she begins down a very familiar path: one that has been walked by countless female characters before her.
We are told many times throughout the film that Sofia is a deeply resourceful and intelligent woman but we very rarely get a chance to see this for ourselves. Instead, Sofia is frustratingly relegated to the role of damsel-in-distress you’ve seen time and time again. This is most evident when she is saved from danger on more than one occasion by the ever-brooding Marc. You’ve seen Marc before, too: he is the kind of sulking, conflicted, possibly-good-under-his-cold-exterior male antihero that used to be my weakness but now causes my eyes to do an involuntary 360.
It is a real shame that many of the film’s most interesting moral dilemmas and story moments are given to Marc rather than Sofia. She spends most of the film as a passenger, rarely driving the plot in any direction aside from what her actions cause Marc and other characters to do. Without spoiling anything, the film does seem to be building up to a big moment for Sofia, but when said moment finally arrives the execution leaves a lot to be desired.
Dormer Deserves A Better Showcase
A longtime television favorite, it is puzzling that Natalie Dormer hasn’t been able to secure the kind of interesting, challenging roles that she so desperately deserves. Her mission to create one for herself here is very admirable, even if I find the end result to be vastly underwhelming.
While the role of Sofia is ultimately not a memorable one, Natalie Dormer certainly takes the role and runs with it at full speed. What most impressed me in her performance was the way she uses her eyes to intense dramatic effect. Dormer’s Sofia often doesn’t say everything that she is thinking, and that is reflected solely in the way her eyes will twitch or shift at a particularly telling moment.
Dormer is so good, in fact, that I was able to go with some of Sofia’s more ridiculous character developments for a while, but eventually even her performance crumbles under the script’s many wonky plot twists, which come fast-and-furious in the deeply troublesome third act.
Revelation After Revelation
For a little while, the mystery surrounding Veronique’s death is intriguing, and there is a little fun to be had in trying to figure out what each of the cast of shady characters is after. However, as the movie goes on and we are given answers to some of the film’s questions, it becomes impossible to remain invested in the story or in Sofia as a character.
In regards to Sofia, her character doesn’t have much of a character arc but instead gets a shoe-horned in backstory and a late revealed motivation that alters what we had previously believed completely. In some films this kind of character revelation works wonders, but it is so lazily constructed and explained here that it strikes me as completely unnecessary.
The film itself ends in a place that is so foreign to where it began that it feels like two movies smashed into one, wounding each half substantially. The second half sees an underdeveloped and misguided depiction of a real-world event play a substantial role in the events of the film and, as with Sofia’s character, changes everything that has come before it drastically but not in a satisfying or interesting way.
At a certain point, you really have no choice but to give up the act of trying to figure out what is going to happen or how the many mysteries will be resolved, because the answers come from so far out of left-field. The many plot twists in the film are not organic or rooted in the characters; they exist solely to surprise. Basically, any twist you can imagine happening in this film does happen, and then five more ridiculous developments are thrown in as well for good measure.
Sound Is Everything
Without a doubt the most impressive aspect of In Darkness is the killer use of sound throughout the film. As is commented on by a character in the film, it is believed that most blind people have an increased sense of sound. Director Anthony Byrne plays with this beautifully, using an amped-up sound design to illustrate the intensity with which Sofia hears even the smallest things. From a piercing creek in a floor board to the treble pitch of an espresso machine, the film does a wonderful job putting you in Sofia’s shoes – or, more accurately, inside her ears.
Sadly, as the film progresses the sound design begins to become more understated and less integral, which I feel was a huge mistake. Sofia’s circumstances are only getting more chaotic with every moment, so the choice to not have the sound design reflect that is a very bizarre one.
In Darkness: Conclusion
What could have been an exciting thriller with a complex, well-written female protagonist instead ends up being a convoluted and messy misfire. Natalie Dormer is a deeply talented actress who completely deserves a role that will allow her to live up to her potential, but despite a valiant effort, this film does not provide that for her. The sound design is initially striking and deeply effective, but grows inconsequential as the film ultimately shows more interest in cheap, silly plot twists than any aesthetic or narrative ambition.
In this case, being left in the dark is infinitely better than coming into the light and receiving deeply unsatisfying answers.
Do you think that Natalie Dormer succeeded in creating an exciting, three-dimensional female protagonist? Did you buy into the film’s many third-act revelations, or were you ultimately left feeling detached from the film and its characters? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
In Darkness was released in the U.S on May 25th, 2018, while a U.K release date for the film has not been set yet. For all international release dates, click here.
Opinions expressed in our articles are those of the authors and not of the Film Inquiry magazine.