J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Slamdance ’15: Darkness on the Edge of Town

Young Cleo Callahan might not look like a vigilante, but she has the right skills. She is crack sharpshooter, particularly with a rifle-scope. Arguably, her investigative talents are somewhat subpar, but in such a small provincial village she is bound to find her sister’s killer sooner or later. However, the guilty party is closer than she could imagine in Patrick Ryan’s moody revenge drama Darkness on the Edge of Town (trailer here), which screens during the 2015 Slamdance Film Festival.

Since the death of their parents, Callahan’s relationship with her older sister Aishling has been strained. She now lives with Foster parents, while Aishling lives the wild life—or at least she was. Although we see full well who the killer is, it feels like the sort of thing that should be held close to the vest. Regardless, Cleo Callahan soon sets out to even the score, presuming the murderer is one of the dodgy characters in her sister’s social circle.

Technically, they are innocent, but it is clearly implied they did sister Aishling wrong in more conventional ways, so there is no need to feel sympathy for their sorry hides. However, it is a different story when suspicion falls on Virgil O’Riley, the brother of her profoundly troubled best friend Robin.

The tone of Darkness is so dark, it is like Milton’s darkness visible. You do not want to know what goes on behind closed doors because it is sure to be awful. This is not a wish fulfillment vigilante movie like the later Death Wish films. It is scrupulously serious, even though there is a good deal of blood down the stretch. At times, Ryan plays with the themes and visual language of the western genre, but it is really more closely akin to a film like Heavenly Creatures, but executed in a drastically more naturalistic style.

Be that as it may, Darkness heralds the arrival of Emma Willis as a major new screen talent to watch. Her performance as Robin O’Riley is truly harrowing, riveting, and downright scary. It is bad luck for Emma Eliza Regan, whose intense slow-burning work as Callahan is likely to be overlooked, even though it is excellent as well.

It is hard to classify Darkness as a thriller, because of its deliberate pacing and thoroughly realized sense of hardscrabble place. Still, this film has grit in abundance. Definitely recommended for patrons of Irish cinema and violent contemporary tragedies in general, Darkness on the Edge of Town screens again tomorrow (1/28) at Treasure Mountain Inn, as part of this year’s Slamdance.

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