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From the Dark
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by Jay Seaver

"Doesn't bog down, at least."
3 stars

SCREENED AT FANTASTIC FEST 2014: "From the Dark" has the feel of the first movie from a new horror talent, but Conor McMahon has actually been doing for a while, never quite having the same sort of breakout as others in the Irish horror scene. This probably won't be the one that leads a producer to give him a still-modest ten or twenty times the money something like this costs for his next project, but it's decent fodder for genre fans, with a couple high points worth recommending.

It's got a familiar starting point - young couple Mark (Stephen Cromwell) and Sarah (Niamh Algar) are driving to some relative via the back roads of Ireland when their car breaks down. It is, of course, the middle of a mobile phone dead zone. Mark sets out to find someone with a landline; after a while Sarah follows. Darkness falls, which is too bad, because whatever the owner of the farmhouse they found unearthed while digging peat greatly prefers the dark to the light.

Give McMahon credit for building a reasonably solid horror movie out of almost nothing here, but it really strains against its tiny budget. The premise of it - a light-averse peat bog zombie thing - requires darkness, but there are long stretches of this movie where I felt like I couldn't see anything either because of the dark or because there were lights being shone directly in my eyes, and it was more aggravating than eerie. McMahon and cinematographer Michael Lavelle could have shown much more of what was going on without losing the visceral sensation of stumbling around in the dark except for the blinding moments and reduced the frustration immensely.

On the other hand, Niamh Algar absolutely owns this movie as Sarah. She's a horror heroine not buried by a backstory full of important foreshadowing, and her banter at the beginning isn't overly quippy to make her feel super-capable. Algar plays her as a girl with personality whom you'll believe is believably determined and frightened later on, and that's a bar that few movies like this can clear with so much room to spare. Stephen Cromwell doesn't stand out quite so much, but he and Algar work of each other well.

When McMahon is able to just show them gutsily and cleverly try to escape, it's a lot of fun, even if Sarah and Mark both have a really frustrating habit of losing light sources. That's how the movie works, of course, and McMahon does a fair job of building the movie as bits where Sarah and Mark make it just a few meters, although it becomes a bit of a case of individual bits being well-done but adding up to not a whole lot of obvious forward momentum at times.

The skill is there - McMahon seems to know how to set up action and gets some good shots when it's light out - but he seems to be hemmed in as much as his characters are. It doesn't make for a bad movie, but certainly one where a good deal of what impresses is the potential.

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originally posted: 12/03/14 15:54:18
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  DVD: 14-Apr-2015



Directed by
  Conor McMahon

Written by
  Conor McMahon

  Niamh Algar
  Stephen Cromwell
  Gerry O’Brien

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