Film reviews

FrightFest 2019 – Dark Encounter

Receiving its international première at FrightFest, there are two big takeaways from Carl Strathie’s (Solis) Dark Encounter.

1. Carl Strathie seems to really like Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
2. Aliens really need to learn how to pick up a phone. Or send an email. Or, like, a memo. Post-it note? Something?

Dark Encounter tells the story of a family trapped in limbo. Their daughter disappeared the year before and despite appeals for help and repeated searches, no sign of her has ever been found. On this, the one year anniversary of her disappearance, the family are gathered in the home after the memorial service when the father, Ray, thinks he sees kids messing around in the woods. They head out to investigate only to find that whatever it is that’s out there… it’s not kids. What follows is a night of terror and panic as unseen things torment the family and attempt to invade the house.

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So right off the bat, any fan of Spielberg’s Close Encounters are going to find this film very familiar, right down to that damnable evil cymbal-bashing monkey that featured in Barry’s bedroom. There’s one in this movie and, once again, it’s a harbinger of extra-terrestrial shenanigans. You’ve got the loud noises, fright lights, a truck that’s suddenly and inexplicably hot to the touch, and people disappearing left and right. There’s also a distinct feeling of Shyamalan’s Signs with the family under siege as whatever these things are attempt to get into the house. There’s even a little hint of Skyline with the blue light seeming to have a hypnotising effect on the family.

The acting is solid here and features some familiar faces. Billy is played by Sid Phoenix, already known to Strathie fans for playing the corpse of the unfortunate Milton in Strathie’s Solis. There’s also Nicholas Pinnock as Sheriff Reese Jordan, who might be known to fans of ScandiNoir as Frank Sutter from Season 1 of Fortitude (and if you’ve never seen Fortitude, we highly recommend it. Just be prepared for season 3 to go a bit off the rails. Okay, a lot off the rails).

There’s a bit of a theme with many horror movies of the ending being something of a letdown. The Wind explained too much, ruining its mystique and ambiguity. Dark Encounter‘s problem is it doesn’t explain enough, with a baffling last minute reveal more likely to have viewers scratching their heads and wondering WHY? It comes out of nowhere, with minimal set up and hardly any previous indicators that it’s about to swerve away from what the audience has, till now, been led to believe, and the problem is that there’s no explanation given for it.

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The movie ends with no real dénouement, no closure, no character confession – and here that simply doesn’t work. It feels cheap and hollow and ultimately just confusing, and that’s a genuine shame because up till that moment, Strathie had me. I was along for the ride. I was invested. Right up until I wasn’t.

When the credits rolled, I was just left disappointed and confused. Unfortunately little more can be said without delving into spoiler territory and despite the ending, the rest of the movie still holds up well. Just be prepared for an ending that likely won’t entirely satisfy you. If you want a neat ending, this isn’t the film for you.

Dark Encounter is available on DVD and Digital HD on 21st October from Signature Entertainment.

Follow our daily coverage of FrightFest here.

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