In the Dark Half is a spooky British drama, directed by Alastair Siddons from a script by Lucy Catherine. We watched it on BBC iPlayer, but it’s also available on Amazon Prime.
Because this site has such a clear remit—21st Century British horror—I often have to consider whether it’s right for me to review a particular film. “21st Century” is nice and simple, because it gives me a clear cut-off point. In some cases, I have to decide if an international production counts as “British”, but In the Dark Half is unambiguously home-grown. It was shot in Bristol under the iFeatures Scheme, which is supported in turn by BBC Film and the BFI.
For this particular film, it’s the “Horror” bit that gives me pause for thought. Siddons cites European horror as an influence, and you can see exactly what he means from the trailer—but his gorgeous feature is (to me at least) more achingly sad than it is scary. It’s absolutely a spooky ride, but arguably not an outright horror. Now I’ve got that caveat out of the way, I feel compelled to blog about it anyway, because I loved it. (Even if it’s not a full member of the horror household, it’s certainly a kissing cousin of the clan.)
In this haunting tale, fifteen year old Marie (Jessica Barden) babysits for her neighbour: a poacher called Filthy (Tony Curran), who knows old stories about the spirits on the hill. The night ends in tragedy when his son is found dead. Marie begins to feel that she’s angered the spirits, and sets about trying, in her charmingly erratic way, to appease both them and her grieving neighbour.
Apparently, In the Dark Half is a “micro-budget” feature, because it was made on a budget of £300,000. Don’t let that put you off: the acting, production, score and cinematography are first class throughout. In fact, the film would look perfectly at home on the big screen, and even exceptional there (also: after seeing and enjoying The Demonic Tapes, I no longer count £300,000 as “micro”!). On camera, the outskirts of Bristol look beautiful, and a couple of establishing shots could be sold as art prints.
Equally impressive are performances from Curran and Barden. The former is earthy and believable, both in his love for his son and subsequent grief. The latter, who anchors the movie, is completely compelling in every one of her scenes. I’d go as far as to say she does an Oscar-worthy take on Marie’s sadness, and her magical, almost dream-logic view of the world around her. The best parts feature both actors and are utterly captivating.
Without the performances and stunning photography, I might have felt cheated by the lack of terror when I watched this film. After all, I am looking for horror. The film has spooky passages, but not enough to make you close your eyes. It builds to a bittersweet rather than thrilling conclusion. Even so, as a movie, I adored it. If it’s not quite horror, it’s still a work of art, and one of the best films I’ve watched for this blog. Top marks!
(You might also enjoy this post from Plankton Produktions.)