J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Dusk: A Dark Night of the Soul Keeps Getting Darker

John Whitmore might just lose his wife and his sanity in the same terrible night. Anne Whitmore has been abducted by a kidnapper who somehow knows exactly how much cash is in their safe and always stays one step ahead. To further complicate matters, Whitmore starts experiencing sinister hallucinations and temporary blackouts. It is like Along Came a Spider occasionally punctuated by outbursts of Mulholland Drive, which is a highly uncomfortable place for Whitmore. The distraught husband will have a miserable night, but at least you could say he has a hard-stop at midnight in Michael Maney’s Dusk (trailer here), now available on DVD from Monarch Home Entertainment.

After a rather alarming nightmare, Whitmore wakes up to find Anne missing and a cassette tape telling him to bring the exact amount of cash in his safe to his cabin way-the-heck-and-gone in the woods by midnight precisely. At least the shadowy mastermind arranged a ride for him. David is gruff and erratic, but he knows nothing of the abduction. He is also inexplicably devoted to the kidnapper, so Whitmore is advised not to provoke him.

David is definitely what you might call terse, but he does not object when Whitmore calls on his best friend Sam Rigsby to watch his back. However, while riding in the back of David’s crummy old camper, Whitmore starts to suspect his pal might be in on it from the fragments of memory and macabre visions that keep up-ending his consciousness.

Dusk’s ultimate twist is not exactly unprecedented, but it is rather surprising to find it jumping out at us in such a darkly ominous film. Yet, Maney pulls it off, employing misdirection worthy of a master magician. It seems to hold together after the big shoe drops, tempting viewers to re-watch everything in light of the game-changing reveal (which they can easily do, now that the film is on DVD).

As Whitmore, John McGlothlin is convincingly desperate and clueless. If anything, he seems more in the dark than the audience when it comes to the murky business afoot, which is maybe slightly problematic. However, Ford D’Aprix slow burns with charismatic surliness. He is definitely the film’s wild card, in a good way. Todd Litzinger is also weirdly effective as good old Rigsby. In contrast, Juliana Harkavy does not have a lot of fun stuff to do as Anne Whitmore, but nobody ever said playing a kidnapping victim was a bed of roses.

For a horror film, the human element is unusually pronounced in Dusk. Frankly, genre labels are rather slippery when applied to Maney’s film, but it is certainly packaged like horror and often feels that way too. It is very dark, but it is not nihilistic—and that definitely sets it apart from the field. Recommended for horror/psycho-thriller/Lynchian mind-trip fans, Dusk releases today on DVD and iTunes.

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