Movie Review: Stylish Thriller ‘In Darkness’ Takes Cues from Hitchcock
A blind pianist named Sofia (Game of Thrones’ Natalie Dormer) is the only witness to the brutal murder of her upstairs neighbor Veronique (Emily Ratajkowski). And the killer (Ed Skrein), who thinks he was spotted but doesn’t realize Sofia is blind, comes back to tie up loose ends.
That’s a dynamite setup for a B-movie thriller in the vein of Wait Until Dark, and during a tight first act that’s where In Darkness (not to be confused with Agnieszka Holland’s Oscar-nominated 2011 drama) seems to be headed. Director Anthony Byrne takes his cues from Hitchcock and De Palma, and delivers some visual flourishes along the way.
In the film’s bravura opening sequence, a woman is violently strangled to death before In Darkness literally rewinds the footage and pulls back the camera to reveal a film being played on a screen. A long tracking shot moves over the orchestra scoring the scene before landing on Dormer’s pianist.
Later on, Byrne displays a touch of Hitchcockian suspense during one of the most intense scenes in the film. As Sofia shares a glass of champagne with Veronique’s father, a Serbian war criminal played by Jan Bijvoet, she drops a small vial of liquid and must locate it before he finishes a conversation with his security associate Alex (Joely Richardson).
We have no idea what’s in the vial, what Sofia intends to do with it, what connection she has to the war criminal, and who Alex is, though we know she had something to do with Veronique’s murder. But despite his audience lacking almost all details about what’s going on here, director Byrne masterfully mines the scenario to nail-biting effect.
Though the B-movie setup is solid, clearly In Darkness has something else on its mind: there’s the war criminal, his mysterious security team, mention of Russian agents searching for a USB, and flashbacks from Sofia’s past. She also hides information from the police detective (Neil Maskell) investigating Veronique’s death, for reasons that are initially unclear.
And after a terrific first act, all the additional story threads slowly bring In Darkness into haughty - and silly - spy movie territory, and drain away most of the fun. The movie clearly wants to be more than a blind damsel-in-distress thriller, but it ultimately loses us by taking itself much too seriously.
About halfway through the film, we learn (or at least infer) exactly what’s going on. And while that knowledge puts a nifty twist on the proceedings, In Darkness has played all its cards with half the running time to go. Much of the final act is spent watching the story threads tie themselves up in predictable manner, and witnessing a series of flashbacks that had already revealed their point halfway through the film.
It’s a disappointing resolution, to say the least - all but totally devoid of the kind of suspense the director had crafted earlier in the movie, and even borderline tedious. But it doesn’t entirely sink In Darkness, which I think has built up enough tension early on to keep us at least somewhat interested during the long-winded resolution.
Dormer (who also co-wrote the film with the director) makes some unusual choices as the blind Sofia - it’s always difficult to judge the accuracy of an actor playing a character with this kind of disability - but generally makes for an strong presence in the lead, especially in early scenes.
And while the second half of In Darkness prevents the film from truly succeeding, director Byrne injects some real flair and genuine suspense into the proceedings. Here’s hoping he has some less convoluted material to work with next time around.