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‘Dark Encounter’ Movie Review – Sci-Fi shines a dazzling light

‘Dark Encounter’ Movie Review – Sci-Fi shines a dazzling light

Carl Strathie’s 2019 science-fiction drama takes a deeply troubled family and transforms their home into a terrifying, mind-melding nightmare. In this ‘Dark Encounter’ movie review for ‘The Movie Affect’ podcast I discuss how, in borrowing from established horror and science-fiction tropes, this film’s tremendous ambition presents a profound rumination about about the human condition. But does ‘Dark Encounter’ succeed?

I discuss this – and much more – in the latest episode of ‘The Movie Affect’. I also suggest a possible reason why ‘Dark Encounter’ didn’t receive a far warmer reception from film critics around the world.

Full Transcript:

Hello, and welcome to the Movie Affect. Today I’m discussing Carl Strathie’s 2009 movie ‘Dark Encounter’, starring Laura Fraser and Mel Radio. Now this is a film that borrows from so many predecessors, in terms of style, composition and overall mood. Many titles spring to mind, ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind‘ obviously is the quintessential science-fiction drama. But also, films like ‘Fire in the Sky’, ‘Communion’ starring Christopher Walken, and many other films that have touched on this kind of subject matter in the past.

At the heart of ‘Dark Encounter’ is a very sombre and serious attempt to depict a family drama, and the film doesn’t pull any punches on that. It really takes time to set the scene and setup several very important relationships and dynamics within this family and the group of friends associated with them – and this turns out to be pivotal, in terms of the story being told.

And so, we’re thrown right into the middle of this very complicated and nuanced family dynamic. But before we know it, strange events start occurring both inside and outside the house in which they live. And of course, this is where the science-fiction element of the film comes into play.

in this dark encounter film review we discuss a brave attempt to tell a serious through the vehicle of a decidedly alien genre movie.
Strange lights, noises and other-worldly goings-on abound in the surprisingly (and delightfully) deep “Dark Encounter”.

And I want to draw your attention in particular to the sound and mainly the way lighting is used to tell this story. The composition of each shot in this film has been so carefully thought about, and there’s such clear depth-of-field and rendering of light that fades according to the distance from the camera. We could almost be watching a cartoon or a computer-generated movie, in which literally every element in the frame has been meticulously and computationally defined.

Now good and experienced editors will tell you that the key to creating dynamic tension and scenes that work is eyeline, eye-contact and reactions in shots. And ‘Dark Encounter’ is a really nice example.

Now ‘Dark Encounter’ is a science-fiction movie, and it’s a rare film that takes itself very, very seriously. And so at some point, of course, when all these fantastical events are occurring, there is a degree to which you have to suspend your disbelief and buy into the premise of the movie.

If you do that, you’re in for a real treat in this case. The overwhelming use of sound and risers and very cinematic special-effects and lighting really bring a lot of drama and, I thought, emotion into this story. And I’m delighted to see genre movies that tell serious stories.

I want to draw particular attention to Laura Fraser’s performance in this film. She plays the mother in the family, and it’s a largely wordless performance. She does have a few lines, but the script of ‘Dark Encounter’ is fairly judicious with giving lines to characters. I think this is such a nuanced and powerful performance, and I really recommend you check it out.

Again: nice character interplay and reaction shots, with very little actually being said. And Strathie, the director, really takes his time to render these moments between characters throughout the running time of ‘Dark Encounter’. He arguably overdoes in a couple of places. There were a few shots I felt went on longer than they needed to. But for the most part, it’s a very sensitively rendered family drama.

It’s probably a testament to Strathie’s direction that the emotional beats that all the characters have (and they all have a few beats to get across) are pretty-much nailed across the board. One thing that’s really remarkable about ‘Dark Encounter’ is that it’s an essentially an all-British movie. It was filmed in a small studio in North Yorkshire in the United Kingdom, and features an almost exclusively British cast!

So every actor that we see in this movie is affecting an American accent. And I’ll tell you what: if I haven’t read that, in my analysis of the film that I did after watching the movie (because I always read reviews after watching the film), I probably would never have guessed. Moreover, the film is entirely shot in Northern England.

So all the forest scenes, the house, all the dressing of the street with street signs and the use of vehicles has all been setup using props, costume work, character-acting and accents, to affect an American location which was actually shot entirely in England. Excellent film-making.

Now, if you’ve seen any past editions of The Movie Affect, you’ll know that one of my central tenets of film-making is that a movie should build to a powerful emotional climax. And ‘Dark Encounter’ is no exception. The buildup with special-effects and the supernatural goings-on of the film certainly is suggestive of a story that’s building to something very powerful.

And we cue, then, to an bravura sequence (I feel) about an hour into the film, which essentially gives us the major emotional reveal of the movie. But it does so using elements of some of the greatest mythological classics, both in literature and film. We’re pitched into a kind of a Twilight World, a purgatorial nether-land for our central character. Again, it all pivots around the around the mother.

And again, the director leans heavily on Laura to show us – through entirely visual acting and reaction shots – the great, profound revelations that she’s experiencing during this very powerful piece of climactic cinematic film-making.

I mentioned it before, but I’ll say it again: there really isn’t a weak performance in this film. Mel Raido as the father-figure (a man with antagonistic relationship dynamics with almost every other character in the film) gives a really nice and quite intense performance. And again, a very nice American accent from an English actor.

I would say the film could probably be edited down by a good ten or fifteen minutes. And I think it would’ve resulted in a slightly tighter and possibly a film that would’ve been more well-received by critics, had it done so. But for me, they’re very minor points. This is such a powerful film. And anyone who’s edited [movies] will know that “killing your babies” can be a very difficult thing to do.

So in summation, then, ‘Dark Encounter’ is a science-fiction drama with such naked ambition. With the goal of telling such a powerful story and making such a profound observation about the human condition. I can only applaud the film-makers for pulling this off. Now, Carl Strathie’s 2018 film ‘Solis’ went out on Netflix. For me, it was a less successful movie narratively. It didn’t quite work. Though again, a very nicely-produced film.

In this case, ‘Dark Encounter’, as far as I’m concerned, he and his team pretty-much knock this one out of the park. It’s a beautifully written, wonderfully shot and very well-scored movie. The music soundtrack is extremely effective in conveying the drama and the magic of this film. I highly recommend you check it out. I think it’s an important modern entry in the science-fiction canon.

Referenced Related Films:

Close Encounters Of The Third Kind (1977)

Fire In The Sky (1993)

Communion (1989)

Cocoon (1985)

The Arrival (1996)

X-Files (1993)

Contact (1997)

Terminus (2015)

Signs (2002)

The Signal (2014)

Explorers (1985)

Flight Of The Navigator (1986)

Dark Skies (2013)

Solis (2018)

2 responses to “‘Dark Encounter’ Movie Review – Sci-Fi shines a dazzling light”

  1. Jeffrey Stackhouse says:

    Nicely dissected and an important recommendation for the film. I’ll keep an eye out.

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