Dark Circles is a deceptively straight-forward psychological Horror movie that only appears to tread familiar territory. Writer/director Paul Soter uses our assumptions and expectations against us resulting in a subversion of the typical Haunted House narrative.
Check out my review after the jump.
Official Synopsis: Urbanites Alex and Penny escape their stuffy city life to raise their newborn in the country. Instead, they find their spacious farm home harbors horrors that threaten their relationship, imperil their son, and drive them to acts that neither believed they were capable of, but both are powerless to stop.
Dark Circles isn’t the first film to exploit the innate fears of parenthood, specifically first time parenthood and the anxieties that accompany taking care of an infant, but it focuses on its effects on relationships. Urbanities Alex and Penny are a young couple whose lives are thrown into chaos after the birth of their son Tanner. Like many new families, they make the decision to leave the gritty city for the safety of life in some rural countryside. Truth be told, Penny was the driving force behind this relocation. Alex is a good guy, committed to the relationship and fatherhood, so of course he goes along with it—but this is clearly a recipe for resentment.
But this move changes everything. He’s a gigging musician and she’s an interior decorator (or something, I forget), and they obviously thrive in the frenetic energy of city life. Living in the sticks is self-imposed isolation and, without the distractions of their metropolis, they risk becoming insular. Add the unrelenting responsibilities of childcare and you’ve got a pressure-cook situation in the making.
Sleep deprivation is the intangible, invisible imp wreaking havoc. In addition to being kept up all night by baby Tanner, Alex and Penny must suffer the cacophony of daily construction work in the bordering parcel of land. After 5 days, both are aware of their diminished capacities, but are unable to counteract its effects. When Penny starts to see a ghostly, disheveled woman prowling in the periphery, she’s terrified, but accepting of the fact that hallucination come with the territory.
The beautiful life they imagined is nowhere to be found. Boxes remain half-unpacked. Alex and Penny shuffle around like sleepwalkers. They begin to resent one another. Nerves fray. What’s more, it looks as if Penny is having a difficult time bonding with young Tanner. An attempt to alleviate stress by hiring a babysitter goes terribly awry. By this point, even Alex thinks he’s catching glimpses of the ghostly woman. Penny is ready to declare the house is haunted and jump ship.
I wish I could say there was more to the title of the film than a reference to the dark circles under the eyes of the sleep deprived, but that’s pretty much it. The only other circles I noted where the ones on the faces of the washer and dryer in the basement. True, there is a brief moment when the machines portend an ominous possibility, but it’s a fleeting moment and certainly not worthy of a title tie-in. I suppose one could argue that Dark Circles also allude to a downward spiral into madness, a circular descent. Whatever.
Strengths: Dark Circles is very well written and acted. Soter’s biggest triumph is making us think there are only two possibilities afoot: Supernatural activity or insanity (or a combination of the two). That’s what makes the final reveal so effective. If you sense the film ending without resolution, be patient and listen to the radio in the background.
It’s nice to see a Horror film about parenthood that doesn’t rely on post-partum depression or a creepy kid to deliver some impactful and poignant moments. Dark Circles is slightly understated, but I think this actually shows some maturity on the part of the filmmakers. In a lot of ways, this movie upholds Gothic traditions in film and literature: The “hysterical” female trapped by a man in a “haunted” house.
3 out of 5 Skull Heads.
|release date (VOD/DVD)||May 21 2013|
|studio||After Dark Films|
|starring||Pell James, Jonathan Schaech, Philippe Brenninkmeyer, Andrea Frankle, Michael Patrick Rogers|