Camping-trip-from-hell film Dark Cove has been touted by its writer-director as “Clerks meets Deliverance”. It’s a comparison so far beyond the reach of this faltering, micro-budget Canadian indie flick that it seems cruel even to propose it in jest. Five twenty-something friends head out to the coast on an annual beach camping trip in Vancouver. Beneath the smiles and banter, all members of the group seem to share a sense of disappointment and frustration at how their young lives are unfolding. Keen to enjoy a hedonistic weekend away from it all, the gang has stocked up on booze, weed and trippy mushrooms.
Opening with a teaser flash-forward, the next 45-minutes of Dark Cove unfolds with almost nothing of consequence happening on screen. The dialogue of Clerks is a witty masterclass in the vocabulary of nerd-speak, self-deprecation and under-achievement. In contrast, the clunky juvenilia of Dark Cove, with its tacky sexual references and giggling, is awkward and forced. Likewise, watching a group of mates get wasted and spout nonsense is as dull a cinematic experience as it is in real life. Director Rob Willey tries to inject some drama into the first half of his script with endless event-lite montages, and the wash of an anonymous soundtrack, but fails to secure anything by way of audience affinity with his characters. His realisation of his female protagonists is especially dire.
A chance encounter with some Australian surfers and a tag-along friend who appears to British (although it's hard to be sure, given his truly bizarre accent) becomes the catalyst for the twists of the movie’s second half. When one the of the Canadian campers is attacked, another of their number comes to their defence with disastrous consequences. Still high and intoxicated, the party make a series of increasingly calamitous decisions, and one of the group becomes completely unhinged.
Shot on a budget of just $25,000, Dark Cove lays bare its lack of resources at every turn. That would be OK if those minimal funds were not matched to such clear evidence of inexperience. Technically-speaking, the film is under-par; marred by poor quality sound recording, uneven light and colour balancing, feel-the-join editing, and some very shonky acting. As events lurch towards a finale, there are attempts to inject a backstory that might explain the disintegration of one key character’s moral code. But this justification, and the violent acts that accompany this shift, come out of nowhere. Deliverance is the story of a dysfunctional, sociopathic family whose moral corrosion is generations in the making. Dark Cove, in contrast, is the tale of a loss of sanity that happens in seconds and seems wholly improbable.
Dark Cove’s most successful gambit is in embracing a darkening of tone. A mood that begins with ‘stoners on vacation’ ends with ‘mad axeman on the loose in the woods’. There are occasional moments of tension along the way, and the Vancouver coastline looks great. But this movie feels like the project of an enthusiastic group of young friends, and was probably way more fun to make than it is to watch. Many viewers are likely to conclude that Dark Cove might have been better retitled as: “I Really Don’t Need to Know What You Did Last Summer”.
DARK COVE / CERT: TBC / WRITER: ROB WILLEY / DIRECTOR: ROB WILLEY / CAST: ELIOT BAYNE, ROB WILLEY, MONTANNA MCNALLEY, ROB ABBATE, JULES COTTON, CAMERON CROSBY, TY STOKOE, JAMES ANDERSON / UK RELEASE: OUT NOW