When debating the benefits of independent filmmaking as opposed to studio filmmaking, there’s a singular reoccurring point that an artist working outside of the system has the luxury of creative freedom. However, even though creative freedom allows visions to be materialized without compromise or needless filtering, independent filmmaking can be a double-edged sword as there are times in which the artist vision goes directly against organic storytelling and character development. As a result, the cinema produced remains invested in the visual realization of emotion rather than the cinematic expression of emotion to the audience, and although that may create a fascinating picture, the justification behind said picture becomes ambiguous and disappointing. And with horror films in particular, the relationship between audience and filmmaker gets blurred when a slavish devotion to vision impedes with storytelling that can qualify as inspired entertainment or as palatable art.
Dark Touch, the new film from Marina de Van and IFC Films, unfortunately exemplifies that point, despite a strong first half and some gorgeously staged set pieces. The film follows a telekinetic preteen who is taken in by her neighbors following the deaths of her brother and parents, yet finds her psychological scars to lead her to progressively darker acts. A quiet, foreboding film that deals with child abuse, social alienation and communal anxiety, Dark Touch is a genre film with more than a hint of nihilism, using effects-driven and fear-heavy scenes of supernatural punishment to drive its points across. The film never relies on heavy-handed, dialogue-driven messages or clear-as-day visual allegories to punctuate the justice doled out by it’s antihero, but, as a commendable fact as that may be, there is little by the way of relationship or sympathy for the film to be grounded upon, and therefore, the storytelling goes into more brazen, impenetrable territory as the film goes along, mended together with homages, intentional or otherwise.
As a technical filmmaker, credit is due for Irish director de Van, who pulls off some seriously impressive effects work and constructs a consuming visually consumptive pace. If only de Van’s intention with the film would have been more leaned towards telling a logically progressing story laden with substance, Dark Touch could have been one of the genre highlights of the year. Unfortunately, John Conroy’s cinematography, Christophe Chassol’s score and Linnea Hermansson’s effects do most of the heavy lifting, establishing the tormented world of Dark Touch without the need for subtlety and character depth to accentuate it. Perhaps an outsiders influence could have kept de Van’s script in cinematic balance to her incredibly desolate direction, but that’s certainly not the case.
Marina de Van does, however, also deserve credit for the work she does in shaping her strong cast, who pull out some stellar performances in the wake of aimless dialogue. Missy Keating is the film’s most valuable player as the preteen, expressing infinite amounts of sadness and anger in her diabolical actions, even as her motivations become muddled and prone to misinterpretation. Marcella Plunkett also does admirably as the girl’s foster mother, alternating both fear and care with a striking sense of genuineness. The rest of the cast is serviceable, with the standouts being those who fall under Keating’s attacks as the pain expressed throughout the film is visceral and often times impressionable upon the audience in it’s graphic glory.
In many ways, Dark Touch is almost like a dark, modern fairy tale, missing the most crucial aspect of it’s existence: the moral of the story. There’s a sense that in de Van’s desire to tell this story her way, there is no resistance to the impending hellpath that she aims for her main character to rage forth upon. However, de Van refuses to establish the people around her lead as perceptive, realistic people, instead pursuing a fantastical world of unlimited skepticism and gloom. Dark Touch is still a captivating and horrific tale of emotional retribution with strong performances, but one that’s ironically less concerned about catharsis and more involved in bringing you down into darkness.
Dark Touch is now available on VOD and in select theaters from IFC Films.