Saturday 11 June 2016

Dark Signal (UK 2015: Dir Edward Evers-Swindell)

They say that God loves a trier, so He must be absolutely delighted with Edward Evers-Swindell's debut feature, a smorgasbord of horror themes packed into one straining-at-the-sides but still enjoyable movie. Dark Signal's genre spread manages to include EVP (Electronic Voice Phenomenon), stalk 'n' slash, crime, torture porn, domestic drama, ghost story and comedy. It's a giddy mix which doesn't all work but it's a lot of fun watching it have a go.

Laurie is a radio DJ whose show is about to be cancelled - she and her producer Ben are gearing up for one last evening of broadcasting, and he's lined up a psychic to make the final night go with a bang. Elsewhere Ben's on line friend, down-on-her-luck Kate, is being roped in to a robbery by her boyfriend - it's easy cash and all she has to do is drive the getaway car. The location of the robbery is a remote farmhouse which just happens to be the site of a recent killing, and the spirit of the murdered girl within is restless, a fact picked up when her disembodied voice comes through during the radio broadcast, summoned by the psychic. Who is the girl? Who is the killer? What is Laurie's dark secret? Is Ben as nice as he seems?

Obviously I'm not going to answer any of those questions, but despite the mixed critical reception this film has received, I rather like it  - it's far better than some have given it credit for.

Much has been made of the fact that Dark Signal was (executive) produced by Neil Marshall, and certainly the overall look of the film - it's very effectively shot mostly at night - recalls some of his early work like Dog Soldiers (2002) and The Descent (2005), although as usual with an 'executive' status, it's not clear how much or little direct involvement he had. Dark Signal was filmed in Snowdonia and the North Wales setting is suitably isolated (fact for location spotters: the hilltop radio station - surely a nod to John Carpenter's The Fog (1980) - is in reality a tourist attraction at the summit of the Great Orme in Llandudno).

Evers-Swindell has chosen his cast well. Siwan Morris as Laurie is  world-weary, all rolled eyes and one liners, and her on screen relationship with Ben (Gareth David-Lloyd) is often funny and touching. Elsewhere James Cosmo turns in another vaguely bonkers performance, but perhaps the biggest surprise is the first UK film appearance of veteran actor Cinzia Monreale as Carla Zaza the medium: fans of Italian horror will recall her from roles in, among others, Lucio Fulci's The Beyond (1981) and Dario Argento's The Stendhal Syndrome (1996) - she even gets a line where she gets to say the words 'the beyond'.

Either the budget or directorial choice (or a combination of the two) means that the final reel doesn't descend to over-the-topness as is so often the case with films of this type, and there's a good last section twist which is well timed and caught this reviewer off guard. I could have done without the obligatory torture porn scene - although necessary to the story - and the EVP stuff is just plain silly. But in a film where if you don't like one element another will be along in a minute there isn't time to worry about this, and anyway the whole thing's pretty daft, which is part of its charm.  

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