Out of Darkness Stabs at the Heart

Chuku Modu as Adem in Bleecker Street's OUT OF DARKNESS. Credit: Bleecker Street

Out of Darkness is a haunting kind of horror. Despite being set in the distant past, this Paleolithic nightmare contains contemporary frights. It’s a film that can seem alien yet terribly familiar. Most unsettling of all, it makes one wonder how different we are from its primitive protagonists scrambling in the dark.

The story takes place 45,000 years ago. Out of Darkness centers on six Stone Age humans. In search of a better home area, they’ve essentially followed their leader in pursuit of a fabled place. However, where they arrive appears more cursed earth than promised land. Something in the dark night seems to be stalking them. As tensions mount, this intrepid tribe begins to crack. All Too soon, it isn’t just unseen shadowy presences that threaten their lives.

Chuku Modu as Adem in Bleecker Street's OUT OF DARKNESS. Credit: Bleecker Street. A stone age man lit by a campfire stands in the dark wearing furs and carrying a spear.
Chuku Modu as Adem in Bleecker Street’s OUT OF DARKNESS. Credit: Bleecker Street

Out of Darkness does a solid job defining its situation quickly and concisely. The group is slowly starving in a frigid foreign place. This provides numerous motivations for the various characters. They’re entangled by the same circumstances, but not entirely interested in the same outcomes. That sets Out of Darkness up as a tale of survival with each character doing whatever they think is necessary to achieve that end.

This opens a Pandora’s box of suspense especially when things start going off the rails. In addition, the film becomes a grim coming-of-age tale. The best part of that being how Out of Darkness suggests that people can be more than society’s expectations.

One of the strongest parts of the movie is the powerful impression it gives of how myriad notions might have developed. It’s easy to see the ways in which nature could inspire superstitious notions. At the same time, Out of Darkness plays with various themes such as misogyny while simultaneously undermining them. At risk of spoilers, male characters regard females as weak because of physicality until it becomes clear some actions require a psychological fortitude muscle cannot compel.

A young woman in stone age clothes composed of furs stands alone in a grim forest holding a spear in Out of Darkness
Safia Oakley-Green as Beyah in Bleecker Street’s OUT OF DARKNESS. Credit: Bleecker Street.

Although set in an ancient era, from the opening scene there’s a horror trope similarity to certain characters. Even without dialogue their actions are enough to establish the roles of the group, or at the very least their hierarchy. We’ve got the brash (jock) leader, final girl, expendable one, and the old man delivering lore. Yet, as Out of Darkness unfolds each develops an interesting complexity. This is thanks in no small part to excellent performances.

Throughout the film characters speak in a fabricated language called TOLA (the original language). Invented by historian and linguist Daniel Andersson, this choice risks making Out of Darkness a stretch of gibberish. Personally, I’m not a fan of too many fake languages conceived for films. That said, the cast is so fluid in their deliveries TOLA feels natural. Combined with their potent facial expressions, Out of Darkness comes closer to a foreign film than lengthy fantasy babble.

There isn’t a weak bit of acting in the whole movie. Chuku Modu as Adem, the group’s leader, has marvelously subtle moments which suggest his character is more than a harsh brute. He’s someone in over his head who can’t admit it. At the same time, his brother Geirr, played by Kit Young, conveys someone terribly burdened by the shameful strain of caution perceived as cowardice by everyone including himself. But it’s Safia Oakley-Green as Beyah who carries Out of Darkness into the kind of compelling horror that haunts an audience. She often sells a journey of strength, survival, and tragedy with her eyes alone.

Someone in stone age apparel stands before rocky, foggy foothills in Out of Darkness
A Still from Bleecker Street’s OUT OF DARKNESS. Credit: Bleecker Street

The main cause of all their varied woes is part of the movie’s mystery. Out of Darkness does a pitch perfect job of leaving things open to wonder. Audiences are likely to speculate up until the last minute about what’s stalking the small tribe. That gives this fright flick the feel of a creature feature, slasher film, and taut thriller all at once.

Director Adam Cumming steers an admirably minimalist script courtesy of Ruth Greenberg. There’s just enough narrative and dialogue to propel the plot, while seeding details about characters which give their actions logic. Even when the story veers towards the foolishness one expects in a horror movie, it makes sense why certain choices are made. In addition, there are one or two plot twists which make grim indictments about humanity. None of which feel preachy, it’s their plausibility that’s unsettling. And all this comes together thanks to clever camera choices by director Cumming.

Simple techniques applied effectively have real impact. Shaky cam used when the group is fleeing in terror allows the audience to see the landscape as they do: distorted and unfocused. It makes the viewer nervous about what can’t be seen. Plus, the Scottish Highlands are presented in a way that makes them seem sinister and alien, yet oddly beautiful. Moreover, there are fabulous shots that show how small people can seem surrounded by night. Although there is an instance of the flip shot that’s become painfully cliché, seemingly appearing in every contemporary horror film, Out of Darkness visually captures the immensity of the world and the unsettling smallness of its protagonists nicely.

Two young stone age men carrying spears search for signs of game along a chilly tundra in Out of Darkness
Chuku Modu and Kit Young as Adem and Geirr in Bleecker Street’s OUT OF DARKNESS. Credit: Bleecker Street

Cinematographer Ben Fordesman did an incredible job using minimal light sources to make a meager campfire the only illumination in the dark. It makes it seem like night has swallowed the world. When characters stare into empty black, it’s as tense as waiting for a shark attack. There’re also the grimly gorgeous vistas which remind how awe-inspiringly unreal nature can seem.

Adam Janta Bzowski composed a period appropriate soundscape for Out of Darkness. Besides drums, bone flutes, conch and kudu horns increase the haunting atmosphere. Once or twice, I mistook the horns for something diegetic.

The gore is minimal but highly effective. The horror here is mostly tension waiting for terrible things to happen. When they do, it’s not only nightmarish but the consequences are disquieting, especially given the ending. Excellent performances give each role authenticity, while cinematically a haunting atmosphere is superbly crafted. Out of Darkness is a fabulously fresh fright flick well-worth seeing.

Written by Jay Rohr

J. Rohr is a Chicago native with a taste for history and wandering the city at odd hours. In order to deal with the more corrosive aspects of everyday life he writes the blog and makes music in the band Beerfinger. His Twitter babble can be found @JackBlankHSH.

Leave a Reply

Film Obsessive welcomes your comments. All submissions are moderated. Replies including personal attacks, spam, and other offensive remarks will not be published. Email addresses will not be visible on published comments.

A panda with a staff and a fox stand ready to fight in Kung Fu Panda 4

Kung Fu Panda 4 Falters Like Other Fourth Movies

John Cena as 'Ricky Stanicky' stars in RICKY STANICKY

Ricky Stanicky: Maybe 6 Writers Wasn’t Enough