BORDERLINE WEIRD: DARK COUNTRY (2009)

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DIRECTED BY: Thomas Jane

FEATURING: Thomas Jane, Ron Perlman, Laurie German

PLOT: Two blissful newlyweds driving back home from their wedding in Las Vegas

Still from Dark Country (2009)
Vegas hit a man in the middle of the road. He lives, but the couple finds he is not all that he seems, and are forced to take drastic measures against him.

WHY IT’S ON THE BORDERLINE: Dark Country is a bit obtuse at times, and it frustratingly delights fans of the obscure by not explaining its motives or workings very often, but I hesitate recommending mainly because it relies a little too heavily on genre standbys and noir reverence instead of blazing new fantastic territory. It is a 50s thriller/noir mixed with a modern horror, but it cannot create its own identity between the two stylings.  There are moments of heavy cinematic distortion and interesting ideas that run through the story like a highway across the hungry desert, but it can’t quite escape some level of mediocrity as it bends prostrate for that which has already been done.

COMMENTS Dark Country represents a promising debut effort from a director who is willing to try new things. What’s really impressive from the start is the writing.  It is intense and full of good, genuine human touches that help the movie flow from scene to scene.  From the first scene to the end, I felt rapt with attention to these immersive characters and their odd relationship, especially after the drive out of Las Vegas ensues.

It is a journey through dark and unforgiving territory, perhaps a metaphor for the new marriage between main characters Gina and Dick, newlyweds who don’t really know what they’re in for.  The young couple just made it official in Vegas, and are ready to go home, but even before their fateful accident, things aren’t what they seem between them.  There is tension, there are incidents between the two that are hinted at, and they have secrets from each other right off the bat.  After their encounter in the desert with the strange man they hit, things only get worse between them.   From an artistic standpoint, Dark Country can be commended as a smart thriller with some brains to back up its craziness.

Visually, it’s a feast for the eyes,  and it’s tonally interesting.  Thomas Jane wants a very engrossing visual experience, but he is also on a budget here, so we are caught in a limbo of many special effects, none of which really hit the mark in a spectacular way.  The CG is on the cheap side (it looks like a violent episode of “Reboot” when they wreck the car near the end!)  The green screen is not very successful in melding the real and fake, but the color effects are interesting, not to mention plentiful, and we are treated to some good old fashioned camera trickery with slick editing and nifty shots.

But while it’s a solid debut for Jane, and an offbeat one at that, we’re still not treading across any bold frontiers with Dark Country.  This is a movie I have seen before, in bits and pieces: intense psychological implications, a noir aesthetic, and the lush, frightening mysteries of the deep desert.  It’s not anything breathtaking or unflinchingly bold.  It’s a good and often disturbing take on some classic thriller ideas, and it has a twist in the story that will have you thinking on your toes for a while, but I wouldn’t consider this to be one of the weirdest movies I’d ever seen.  With a good cast, a taut script, some interesting effects, and a more intelligent angle than your average thriller, Dark Country has a lot going for it. Just don’t expect it to be too weird, because you might be disappointed.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“The developments in Tab Murphy’s script are never quite as shocking to us as they are to Dick and Gina, and the story eventually builds the feeling of marking time on the way to its TWILIGHT ZONE-esque resolution… Jane’s visual sense assures that the film is always a spooky pleasure to watch, though…”–Micgael Gingold, Fangoria (contemporaneous)

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