Returning from a five-year hiatus courtesy of a new partnership with Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment, the After Dark Horrorfest is back with a new crop of “8 Films to Die For.” All the films were released in select theaters and on VOD on October 16, 2015, with a DVD release date of October 27, 2015.
While on a visit to the abandoned ruins in the middle of nowhere in Turkey, a group of people play a harmless game called “Murder in the Dark.” But when they wake up the next morning and discover that one of them has in fact been murdered, they start to realize that someone may be watching them–or that one of them cannot be trusted.
This is the setup for Murder in the Dark, but the film actually has a much more interesting backstory. It was created as an experimental horror film, where the actors were not given a script and the film was largely improvised. The filmmakers gave each actor information about their character that nobody else knew, which they could reveal during shooting and change the trajectory of the plot. As things start to happen and the film becomes a murder mystery, the actors are actually just as much in the dark as the audience, as they have to use clues given by the filmmakers to find out who the killer is.
Having not known any of this before watching the movie, I was surprised at how well everything played out. Murder in the Dark easily comes off as a regular scripted movie, with a mystery that kept me intrigued all the way through. There is not a lot of time or opportunity for character development, so the audience has to make their decision about how they feel about the characters based on the actors’ performances and the little tidbits of information given about their lives. When the bodies start to fall and the characters turn on each other, secrets are revealed that completely change some peoples’ motivations. And because the actors didn’t know what was going to happen themselves, their confusion about the situation is believable, which makes it all the more difficult to discern who has murderous tendencies. It is also difficult because everybody gives a natural performance, and a good portion of the characters come off as very likable, so you don’t want them to be the killer or a victim.
The location of the ruins (which are actually in Italy) is an interesting choice for a story like this. An overhead shot shows the long winding road that leads up to the ruins, which covers a large area and gives the filmmakers many different smaller locations to play with to keep things interesting. The setting helps to establish a sense of isolation for the characters and the fact that they are alone with a killer, but it did nag at me a little bit that there was no explanation about who these people were to each other or why they were at these particular ruins. I guess we just have to assume they were traveling together and decided to camp out in the middle of nowhere in Turkey. And, believe it or not, there is no mention of cell phones! What a relief it was to not have that standard scene where everybody whips out their iPhones and complains about there being no signal. They only have each other to rely on for help, even though they are never sure who can be trusted.
The filming style is also sort of experimental, but still looks professional and beautiful. There is a lot of handheld without it being too shaky, and the director really took advantage of the location to get some great shots. With this unique setting and the film’s interesting premise–which is revealed during the closing credit sequence with behind-the-scenes footage and interviews–I’d say Murder in the Dark is a great film for curious fans who want to see something new and different.
WICKED RATING: [usr 6]
Director: Dagen Merrill
Writer(s): Dagen Merrill, Chris Wyatt
Stars: Phil Austin, Luke Arnold, Mary Kate Wiles
Studio/ Production Co: Regenerate Films, After Dark Films, 20th Century Fox
Length: 82 minutes
Sub-Genre: Murder mystery