I think that’s what hell is. Having your sins pulled out from the dark corners of your soul and served up to you in this endless loop of torture
— Susan (Thora Birch), Dark Corners
Saw-style gorno, Lynchian identity crisis, “madman or monster?” Put ‘em together and what have you got? Unfortunately, a film that would barely say (Bibbidi Bobbidi) boo to a goose. Dark Corners is a film so unfrightening, derivative, and sexually frustrated, that it is akin to watching a high-school homage to the horror genre. Director Ray Gower attempts to crank up the tension but unfortunately, it’s rather much like the Spanish Inquisition in the legendary Monty Python sketch: in lieu of a genuine torture device he’s made do with a dish-rack.
The plot runs two parallel story-lines, both featuring Thora Birch and asks us to discern which, if either, represents reality. Birch is Susan, a happily married blonde trying to conceive in a shiny, sterile world, and haunted by pesky dreams of unhygienic damsel-in-distress Karen. Or perhaps the reverse is the case.
Both feature the murderous exploits of the Nightstalker, or Needletooth to give him his horror-monster name. Susan seeks unsound psychiatric advice from the object of a work-mate’s fantasies, the reptilian Doctor Woodleigh (Toby Stevens). Karen haplessly calls on the services of a blind detective (Alan Perrin). As the storylines increasingly intersect, audiences may need to steel themselves for a twist so mind-blowing it’ll make you question your own sanity, or more likely your decision to watch such predictable nonsense in the first place.
The filmic debts are too numerous and tedious to list here but suffice to say that Ray Gower watches a lot of David Lynch films. Whereas Lynch is a master of dizzying claustrophobia, sealing you into his nightmares as if you were experiencing them for real; Gower’s film held me at a bored distance, with only the occasional shock exciting any emotion at all.
British audiences will already be aware (and rather proud) that no-one does “smug cunt” like Toby Stephens. His smarmy rapscallion psychiatrist oozes perfidiousness. The cynical and sadistic amongst you may enjoy that fact that he makes manifest the suspicion that the practice of hypnotism might, on occasion, attract sexual-criminals looking to cop a sneaky feel.
In the office of Doctor “cuckoo-cuckoo” Woodleigh, unsanctioned molestation is practically a guarantee. With a pair of horns adorning his desk and, presumably, a little hole in his pocket, when he states that hypnotherapy is just one of the many “tools at his disposal”, we are left in little doubt as to what else might be up his sleeve or, more aptly, resting in the palm of his unseen hand.
Hilariously, in the EPK on the official website, Gower describes the subtle edge to Stephens’ performance from which we might “detect” an element of villainy. Now even Columbo and his celebrity-murderer-of-the-week never had it this easy.
Birch does a nice line in sullen teens (see Ghost World, American Beauty, The Hole), but her dramatic somnambulism only works to occasional effect here. Her existence as Karen basically comprises of a series of pummellings and frights, characteristically taken in her stride: she takes a bus where all the other passengers are inexplicably day-trippers from a Victorian asylum; kids rage on burnt out cars making throat-slitting gestures and snarl like the Hounds of the Baskerville from behind railings; she works in a Re-animator-style mortuary with a Vincent Price-lite boss etc., etc., etc.
That she is frequently nonplussed in the face of the maniacal, and occasionally anachronistic, harks back to Ghost World’s Enid et al, and their dry oh-for-fuck’s-sake attitudes, yet this shtick frequently undermines the terror presented. Her performance as Susan is largely (and presumably intentionally) indistinguishable, despite her contrastingly pleasant set-up, she has the dead-eyes of a woman consumed by ennui.
There are a handful of memorable moments scattered in amongst the dross. A recurring news reporter informs us that one Nightstalker victim has had “all her internal organs carefully and skilfully removed”, with the same gleeful tone that he adopts when reporting the story of a “shrinking” dog. There’s some imaginative editing in the shift between worlds (for instance a reversal of Karen and Susan’s sleeping positions), and the early mortuary sequences are at least enjoyably macabre. However, in summation, this schlocky, hackneyed, more dim than dark thriller left me as cold and detached as Thora Birch.