Talk that talk – The Darkside review

The Darkside

By Simon Miraudo
February 23, 2014

When media-watchers accuse the giant, globulous entity that is Australian Cinema of not making pictures the regular punter would be interested in seeing, I don’t think they’re citing films like The Darkside as an example of what they want more of. For 90 minutes, some fine actors sit down and recount ghost stories directly to the camera, behind which director and DOP Warwick Thornton sits. Each short story goes for about ten minutes, and, save for a mid-movie dance break, there’s barely any movement on the screen.

And yet, there is something strangely, eerily compelling about Thornton’s odd exercise. Despite its squirm-inducing potential (for both patient and impatient audiences), it feels like exactly the kind of cinema Australia should be making. Sure, we need lots of other stuff too, but there will always be room for a funny, weird, spooky, moving curio from one of our best filmmakers.

The Darkside

The first batch of stories come from actors who may not spring immediately to mind, reciting eerie tales of interactions with the beyond (based on recorded interviews Thornton’s crew conducted with real people). As the feature progresses, the more recognisable performers emerge: Deborah Mailman delivers a deeply unsettling tale with amusing matter-of-factness; Aaron Pedersen has his bonfire-based vignette interrupted by something mysterious off-screen; and Shari Sebbens, of The Sapphires, closes out the anthology with the most excellent, most morbid monologue of them all, her saddened eyes drawn to the floor throughout. If Rose Byrne can win a Best Actress AACTA for her (admittedly very good) seven-minute performance in The Turning, then surely a case can be made for Sebbens, whose sustained 13-minutes of subtle anguish makes this whole enterprise worthwhile.

Jack Charles, Bryan Brown, Claudia Karvan, and a host of other talents have been recruited by Thornton, who’s bringing to life the Indigenous storytelling tradition in an intriguing new way. It may frustrate some viewers, quite reasonably too, and maybe it would have worked better as a web series, but there are enough good and haunting chapters within The Darkside to make it feel like a valuable experience.

3/5

Check out Simon Miraudo’s archive of reviews.

The Darkside plays the Perth International Arts Festival from February 23, 2014.

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