written and directed by Justin P. Lange
by Walter Chaw What Justin P. Lange's hyphenate debut The Dark, a variation on Let the Right One In, lacks in freshness it makes up for in look and vibe. Better, probably, as a short film, it opens strong with a bad man on the run, Josef (Karl Markovics), stopping at a convenience store, where he gets the usual warning about going into the woods. Lange subverts convention immediately, and then goes to the remote house in the wood where the monster lives. Said monster, a little-girl ghoul named Mina (Nadia Alexander), has been murdering the wayward and eating them for some time--but she stops short of harvesting Josef's young ward, Alex (Toby Nichols), whom Josef has kidnapped, groomed, and, naturally, abused. What follows is the relationship between Mina and Alex as it develops into a kind of twilit co-dependency based on the confluence of their respective traumas. The problem with expanding shorts to feature-length is that it's often done on the premise that what worked well in shorthand would work better with extended narratives and backstories. What's murky is sometimes best left that way. The Dark is elegant, even beautiful, when it regards Alex and Mina silently in their brief space together. Doom hangs over them and it's understood that there's no future for them, but the film captures those delirious moments in a child's emotional life when it seems like forever is possible. Yet whenever it leaves that space, be it through flashback or some other external contrivance, its deficiencies in script and performance become clear. Still, even with a bit too much fat left on the bone, The Dark is a promising debut for Lange.