VOD film review: Dark Encounter
Inversion of sci-fi tropes8
Anton Bitel | On 23, Aug 2019
Director: Carl Strathie
Cast: Laura Fraser, Mel Raido, Sid Phoenix, Grant Masters, Spike White, Alice Lowe, Nicholas Pinnock, Vincent Regan
On 17th November 1982 in Blue Hill County, Pennsylvania, Ray (Mel Raido) and Olivia (Laura Fraser) Anderson returned home from a dinner date to find the hot water tap running and their daughter missing. One year to the day after eight-year-old Maisie’s mysterious disappearance, the whole family reassemble in the house after a memorial service.
They are still broken. Ray is bitter, aggressive and cantankerous, and barely getting on with anyone – including his wife and teenaged son, Noah (Spike White), who is struggling to live a normal life. Ray’s eldest brother, widower Morgan (Vincent Regan), is constantly reminded of his own wife’s death. Olivia’s sister, Arlene (Alice Lowe), tries to be loving and supportive. Ray’s younger brother, Billy (Sid Phoenix), has commitment issues, while Arlene’s husband, Kenneth (Grant Masters), the local Deputy Sheriff, feels that he has let the family down and is guilt-ridden in his failure to solve the case. Still unexplained, Maisie’s absence has left a gaping hole of sorrow and dysfunction in its wake.
Yet on this evening, something strange – “something unnatural”, as Kenneth puts it – happens. Lights appear in the sky, and as the menfolk head out into the woods to investigate, Olivia and Arlene hear strange noises around the house. Soon, the family comes under attack from all sides by an alien presence that is trying to make some kind of contact – and, as they band together to survive this onslaught of electrical interference, flickering lights and confounded gravity, they are led to a revelation of what Maisie knew, but nobody else realised, 12 months earlier.
Writer/director Carl Strathie’s follow-up feature after his debut, Solis, Dark Encounter is once again science fiction that brings horror into its mix, as this family, already beleaguered by grief, finds itself under further siege from forces altogether more overwhelming and irrational. “They took Maisie, didn’t they?” says Noah to Olivia – but as what starts as a spectacular light show soon gives way to reality-bending haunted house tropes, Gregg Arraki’s Mysterious Skin becomes as much an influence as Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
Called to investigate the anomalies at the house, Sheriff Reese Jordan (Nicholas Pinnock) and Deputy Miles (Sean Knopp) are bewildered as to what is unfolding, even if they believe Olivia when she insists that something has happened. This is all essential to a film in which Strathie finds the oddest, most oblique off-world routes to parcelling out narrative information, and suggests that there can sometimes be nothing from which we are more alienated than the goings-on in our own home. Even if it is presented with luminous visuals and awe-inspiring special effects, this is a harrowing story, exposing the cracks in a family’s tight-knit structure. Some, though, may remain unconvinced by its secular take on a deus ex machina, and by the truly Spielbergian sentimentalism of its ending.