When the upstairs neighbour of blind pianist Sofia falls from her balcony, the police initially write it off as a suicide. Since the deceased Veronique was in some kind of trouble as well as coming from a suspect family, Sofia suspects the woman was murdered. As she becomes targeted by violent criminals she is drawn ever further into a darkened underworld where nobody is who they seem, including Sofia herself.
Initially, In Darkness is a thoroughly engaging watch. A distinctive aesthetic dominates early on, reflecting Sofia’s visually impaired experience of the world around her. The occasional sensory overload features staccato scattershots of objects shown in close-up to throw in your face her perception of the noise they make. In addition, frequent disorienting camera angles keep you from properly trusting what you can actually see, underscoring the unreliability of sight and giving us some limited understanding of Sofia’s everyday life. With such an intriguing setup and stylised visuals, it seems that perhaps the film will go down the same kind of route as one of Brian De Palma’s lurid mysteries, but no such luck.
After such a promising start, the film unfortunately then descends into a convoluted mess. The surreal touches disappear to be replaced by a generic conspiracy that surrenders any sense of true mystery for a litany of pointless connections between the characters and meaningless revelations that add absolutely nothing.
As Sofia becomes stalked by numerous undesirables all hunting for a flash drive Veronique reportedly had in her possession, the background plot is revealed in piecemeal instalments, spiralling ever more into implausibility with each new revelation. Various characters drift in and out of the story, including a mysterious man with apparent ties to Sofia’s past; Veronique’s father, a former Serbian warlord accused of war crimes; and the head of a security firm and her enforcer brother, the latter of whom Sofia begins something resembling a relationship that further complicates an already messy narrative.
Attempts are made to keep a modicum of interest by periodic flashes of some vaguely defined tragedy in Sofia’s childhood, but they don’t actually provoke any interest, merely acting as placeholders until their significance is adequately explained. The underlying mystery is maintained only by actively withholding information, later revelations not marrying up with how characters previously behaved. Worst of all, the film commits the cardinal sin of lying to the audience in order to preserve the secrecy of its developments.
Despite a compelling opening, In Darkness ultimately reveals itself to be a substandard thriller, its increasingly ludicrous plot becoming irritating rather than entertaining, and eventually it feels like it doesn’t actually matter how the film will end, just that it soon does.
In Darkness / Cert: 15 / Director: Anthony Byrne / Screenplay: Anthony Byrne, Natalie Dormer / Starring: Natalie Dormer, Ed Skrein, Joely Richardson, James Cosmo, Neil Maskell, Jan Bijvoet, Emily Ratajkowski / Release Date: July 6th
Expected Rating: 7 out of 10