April has certainly been a great month for women in the horror genre. Lele Laila and Ginanti Rona’s “Qorin,” told the story of an Indonesian all-girls school where the male principal summoned dark spirits in order to have total control over his students, thereby allowing him to abuse them. On a slightly lighter note, Carlos Therón’s “Phenomena” took us back to the late 1990s and followed three middle-aged women as they attempted to rid an antiques’ shop of evil. On an even lighter note, Pratim D. Gupta’s “Tooth Pari” turned Kolkata into a warzone for vampires, witches, and humans. Lee Cronin’s “Evil Dead Rise” pitted two sisters against each other, with one becoming an instantly iconic Deadite and the other trying to make it till dawn without letting her sister’s children die. Alexis Jacknow’s “Clock” showed the pressure that society puts on women over 30 who don’t want to have children. And it seems like we’re closing off proceedings with “From Black.”
Thomas Marchese and Jessub Flower tell the story of a single mother called Cora, who spends her days doing all kinds of drugs with Wyatt. One day, she passes out on her couch, and her young son, Noah, goes missing. While Cora’s sister, Bray, who is a police officer, chases cold leads, Cora joins a drug addicts anonymous group to deal with her psychological and physiological issues.
Seeing Cora’s condition, the host of that group, Abel, approaches Cora with a proposition. He says that there’s an arduous ritual that can help Cora bring her son back from the dead. Abel doesn’t go into the details, as he thinks it’ll dissuade Cora from taking up the task. He only assures her that he knows that the process works because he has resurrected his child. And based on that, Cora enters into an agreement with Abel to partake in this ritual. Her doubts about the authenticity of Abel’s claims are dispelled almost instantly. However, with each passing moment, Cora starts to realize that she has to pay a huge price to get Noah back.
As per IMDb and Letterboxd, around 19K to 25K people have watched the 2016 horror film “The Dark Song,” which is a good number. So, I am assuming you can see the clear parallels between Liam Gavin’s dealings with the occult and those of Marchese and Flower. I don’t think it’ll be a stretch to say that “From Black” has clearly taken inspiration from “A Dark Song” while making certain alterations to set the story in rural North America.
Cora is quite similar to Sophia in terms of her inability to comprehend the sudden loss of their respective sons. There’s this oscillation between denial and acceptance that seems to be tearing the character from the inside out. And even though she knows that there’s no closure to be found in this life, it’s the only option she has. Abel and Joseph share a bushy beard and an inclination towards the supernatural. But Abel is much more sympathetic in comparison to Joseph’s short-tempered and perverted traits. The point where the two movies begin to truly differ from each other is when it comes to depicting the grueling nature of the ceremony and how it chooses to conclude Cara and Abel’s journey.
Apart from a scene where the daylight is extinguished as soon as a candle is set down on the floor, Abel’s puking scene, and the amazing creature design of the entity that has to be bargained with, “From Black” never really soars. At the very least, Cara and Abel’s exhaustion from the ritual should’ve been palpable. That house they are always in should’ve felt claustrophobic. The fact that, once you’ve started the process of dealing with the devil, you can’t simply walk out of it should’ve been apparent. Moreover, the abject brutality of this ancient monster should’ve been explicit.
For some reason, Marchese keeps showing a weird level of restraint, thereby dampening the impact of those scenes. The decision to constantly cut away from the house that Cara and Abel were stuck in to the police station where Cara is explaining the ordeal also doesn’t help as it messes with the sense of tension. Composer Luigi Janssen definitely does most of the heavy lifting, as he simply goes for broke to create some semblance of dread and horror. He essentially elevates every single scene with a nerve-wracking score that actually seems to be possessed by the demon on the screen.
With all that said, “From Black” actually rests on Anna Camp and John Ales’ shoulders. And while Ales truly commits to his “broken shell of a man” act, it never feels like Camp’s heart is in the scene. Yes, the subpar writing can be blamed. But the writing, subpar or otherwise, still gives Camp ample opportunity to show what she’s capable of. Yet it always feels like she has a surface-level understanding of what her character is going through. And it’s very apparent in the scenes where Cora is supposed to absolutely break down and crumble because of the weight of the grief, and all you get is Camp’s stiff exhibition of sadness.
Ales tries his best to make every frame he shares with Camp work with his energy and conviction. Sadly, it’s not enough to salvage the film. Jennifer Lafleur, Cora’s sister, is fine as the audience surrogate who is trying to process all this information and make sense of it. To be honest, there should’ve been more of Travis Hammer as the extremely annoying Wyatt. He deserved to go out with a bang, at least. Giving him such an underwhelming exit was unfair.
At the end of “From Dark,” we see Cora sitting in her cell, awaiting the consequences of what she has unleashed into this world. I could not help but wonder what would’ve happened if the film had divided its setting between the house and the police station in a linear fashion. The first act could have been about the ritual. The second act could have been about the interrogation. The third act could’ve been a balls-to-the-walls battle between the demonic entity and the police as they tried to stop it (while comprehending what they were fighting) from getting to Cora, who watched the carnage unfold helplessly. And it could’ve concluded with Cora going into the afterlife and Noah being spat back into reality, thereby boggling Bray’s mind. I mean, Thomas Marchese and Jessub Flower had the pieces right there. They just chose to present it in such an unimpressive way that their movie will only be remembered as a pale imitation of “A Dark Song.”