Dark Country

[4 October 2009]

By David Ray Carter

Confusion reigns in the new Sony Pictures release Dark Country, a tale of mystery, marriage and murder that unfolds against the backdrop of the foreboding Nevada desert. The film is long on style and short on information, eventually allowing the mystery to escape the boundaries of the frame and spill out into the audience. As Dark Country twists and turns, the confusion of the characters is ultimately matched, if not surpassed, by the confusion of the viewer.

Richard wakes up in a seedy motel room outside of Las Vegas with his new wife, Gina, beside him. Richard and Gina only met the day before, but they found in each other a shared desire to escape their former lives. Before setting out for their honeymoon in Sedona, Arizona, Richard is given an ominous warning by a man in a diner. He tells Richard not to stray from the main highway, lest his beautiful new wife suffer the same fate as the similar looking woman on the “Missing” poster hanging on the wall.

Richard doesn’t inform Gina of the disconcerting encounter and they begin work on the two arduous tasks facing them: crossing the Nevada desert in the dark of night and getting to know the stranger they just married. The pair gets off to a rocky start as Gina’s smoking and Richard’s evasiveness leave the other cold but a detour for some connubial fun eases the brewing tension. A missed turn and a dead end spark another argument, but Richard and Gina’s bickering is interrupted when their car hits a man in the center of the road.

The man – the apparent victim of a one-car accident – is still breathing, so the newlyweds put him in the backseat to take him to get help. To their shock and horror, the gruesomely disfigured man sits up and begins screaming in agony. They calm him down but what comes out of his mouth next is even more upsetting. The man knows details about each of their lives that they hadn’t planned on sharing with one another just yet. 

Richard becomes fed up with his ungrateful passenger, but is attacked by him before he can get him out of the car. Richard kills the man in the ensuing struggle and while Gina is understandably disturbed by what she has seen, she agrees to assist him in burying the body as not to interrupt their plans for a new life. More secrets surface as the pair buries the stranger in a shallow grave and they grow increasingly suspicious of one another. Each has their own idea about the man’s true identity and how he relates to them, but the truth they find is far more shocking than either expected.

Dark Country sees actor Thomas Jane pulling double duty as both the film’s star and director. TThis is Jane’s first foray behind the camera on a feature film; a task he proves to be more than capable to handle. He stylishly frames each character in a different manner to suit their emotional state, particularly Lauren German’s Gina. German alternately plays Gina as a sultry sexpot and a victim, and Jane’s framing of her helps the film convey these ideas as well as her performance does. 

Unfortunately for him, Jane’s burgeoning directorial abilities are coupled with a lackluster script by frequent Disney scribe Tab Murphy. Dark Country takes an ill-advised turn towards the supernatural as it heads towards its climax. The device itself is not flawed however, but is rendered useless by a complete lack of foreshadowing. The film throws a multitude of red herrings into its plot only to choose a twist that will leave most viewers scratching their heads and wondering the purpose of the events preceding it. The fact that the out-of-the-blue ending has little to do with the rest of the film is especially frustrating given that several intriguing questions are left unanswered.

Dark Country expends all of its narrative energy on a mystery that never comes to fruition. Just as one begins to become engrossed in the dynamic between Richard and Gina, the film makes a U-turn not unlike the characters do upon reaching a dead end. While innovation and bucking the status quo are always welcome in cinema, there’s something to be said for straightforwardness and plot resolution. Not every film need be “challenging” and character development can be as just as interesting – if not more so – than plot twists. 

Dark Country throws its whole body into its final sucker punch only to miss by a mile. Jane shows flashes of talent as a director, but he’d be better served with stronger material for his next effort.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/112296-dark-country/