In The Dark Half
Directed by Alastair Siddons Starring Jessica Barden, Tony Curran, Lyndsey Marshal, Georgia Henshaw, Tim Lewis Club, IFI, Dublin, 87 min
Tides are rising. Cities are collapsing. It’s time to go back to the old religion. Hoist the Wicker Man. That might sound hysterical but, on the evidence of Ben Wheatley’s recent, superb Kill List and this interesting exercise in genre misdirection, British film-makers are getting down with the scarier side of paganism.
Alastair Siddons’s creepy, low-key drama is not in the same league as Wheatley’s film, but it finds interesting ways of combining apparently incompatible subjects. Like this week’s Berberian Sound Studio, the film looks and smells a little bit like a horror film. However, a close examination of the plot suggests it might be something else entirely.
Jessica Barden (ex-Coronation Street) is excellent as Marie, a young girl living unhappily with her mother in a rundown house on the outskirts of Bristol. Life turns even more miserable when a boy dies while she is baby-sitting at the house of a local oddball named, tellingly, Filthy (the impressively gruff Tony Curran). Marie begins to suspect that some sinister force is lurking within the hill that overshadows her estate. She makes a sort of pagan shrine in a breezeblock shelter, scatters it with fetishes and writes cryptic messages on the wall.
As events unfold, the entire locale slumps intomadness. Marie’s mum (Lyndsey Marshal) begins whacking lumps out of the bannister. Filthy allows bereavement to cloud his judgment. Marie sees malevolent lights on the side of the hill.
The film does a very fine job of combining rough naturalism with apparent supernatural shocks; Neus Ollé-Soronellas’s lens work is appositely gloomy; Barden is impressively fragile. But you suspect there is no satisfactory way to consolidate the various competing narratives.
Sure enough, the end turns out to be overly neat, slightly deflating and more than a little familiar. Rats: a little more invention and Siddons might have created a cult smash. Instead, we’re left using words like “promise” and “potential” but we’re jonsing to see the director’s sophomore effort.