Man, families are fucked up, huh? I’m sure all of us, at one time or another, have thought this or that about how our family is “different” from others. What’s scary is, if you grew up with the right (wrong) people, you could have some pretty frightening beliefs. Between the Darkness imagines what would happen if those beliefs turned out to be right…
…That’s the heart of the concept behind Between the Darkness, aka, Come, Said the Night, the debut feature from writer/director Andres Rovira. In Between the Darkness, we follow Sprout (Nicole Moorea Sherman) and her family, living isolated in the wilderness, where their father, Roy (Lew Temple), teaches them about Greek mythology as if it is all real. Beliefs in Aphrodite, Zeus and others are all they have ever known, and when Sprout begins to suspect a Gorgon, an ancient mythical creature, has descended upon them, dark family secrets are revealed.
WARNING: Between the Darkness is a difficult film to discuss without fear that I might spoil it. There are no direct spoilers in this review, but plenty of hints, so read at your own risk, or skip to the bottom for a brief summation.
Between the Darkness pulls you in from the beginning, establishing a strange setting where Sprout, Roy, and little brother, Percy (Tate Birchmore), live in a place that feels out of time. At first, I thought Rovira may be presenting a world that didn’t fit neatly into any time period, but he quickly makes it clear that instead, Roy has sheltered his children to the point where they have no concept of the outside world. They are a family that is detached from reality, with Roy referring to their home as their “sanctuary” from the world, which he refers to as the otherness. In a lot of ways, Between the Darkness is like a reverse The Village, in which there’s no secret pertaining to why these characters believe what they believe. Instead, we’re left with the bubbling tension of a psychological horror film steeped in fantasy, thanks to the manipulation of a father with his kids.
Roy has brought up Sprout and Percy with a firm belief in Greek mythology. In their world, everything has a god, and monsters lurk in the shadows. And, like most religions, there are strict rules which Sprout must abide by. Sprout isn’t allowed to play with boys, especially not the neighbor kid, Max (Max Page). Roy even dresses her in long-sleeved clothing, so that she can never show skin and be “tempting” (keeping in mind, Sprout has just turned 13 in the film. So we’re dealing with that kind of level of fucked up). Like Carrie’s mother in Carrie, Roy is terrified of letting his little Sprout (not her real name) grow up. Despite the supposed monster lurking in the forest, Rovira keeps the focus on the always present threat revolving around a mysterious event involving Sprout’s sister, Magda, which occurred because she let the temptations of becoming a woman overcome her, something which Roy clearly won’t allow with Sprout. The guy isn’t exactly father of the year.
This is a dark coming of age fantasy with a psychological horror twist. At the center of this creature feature is the story of a girl being forced to stay a little girl by a father who is unable to accept the reality that she will inevitably grow up. Making the story more interesting is the fact that these characters are all so naïve when it comes to what’s real and what’s not, their state of mind is completely untrustworthy, so we don’t know what to believe once Sprout’s Gorgon creeps into the film. Rovira surprisingly keeps the cinematography simple, perhaps to create a distinction between the underlying darkness of Sprout’s family, and the fantasy which has turned real. Each time the Gorgon appears, it does so in a wash of pinks, purples, and blues, giving these moments a fantastical look. Rovira does a great job in keeping the audience guessing what’s really going on here.
I’d love to say that the horror in Between the Darkness is effective, but unfortunately, it’s not. At least, not until the pulse-pounding finale. Sure, Rovira is an expert at tightening the tension to the point where you feel like your spine is about to snap like a toothpick, but there’s something missing. The Gorgon. The creature hardly appears in the film, and never quite feels like a real threat, with the film even seeming to forget about the Gorgon altogether. Rovira builds a fascinating concept with Between the Darkness, but the fantastical elements end up feeling like more of a distraction than anything from the contentious relationship growing between Roy and Sprout. Too many red herrings-and there are many-left me feeling more cheated than surprised.
Between the Darkness isn’t about the monster. It isn’t even about the other characters in the film, including the always excellent Danielle Harris as a ranger with a thing for Roy, a relationship which comes off about as unnatural as maple syrup on pizza. Harris, whom Roy fears as a seductive temptress-and let’s face it, she is-is the sweet syrup to Roy’s greasy, artery clogging strangeness. No, this film, boiled down to its core, is a simple story of a girl wanting to break the chains of the phrase “daddy’s little girl”, and it’s all carried by Sherman, who is phenomenal as Sprout. Sherman plays the role with such strength and determination that she IS Sprout. In fact, Sherman is so good, it’s a crime she doesn’t headline the poster. Someone needs to fix that.
If you hit play on this film expecting a frightening creature feature, you’re going to be disappointed. Between the Darkness is a fascinating character study that deals with ideas of innocence, growing up, and the fear of having to face the darkness beyond the safe places we all create for ourselves. Between the Darkness is far from perfect, but this is a film that never fails to engage with some interesting ideas, loads of tension, and performances to scream for.
Between the Darkness releases on VOD tomorrow from DarkCoast.
By Matt Konopka