Murder in the Dark is a 2013 horror whodunnit written and directed by Dagen Merill (Beneath) and is amongst After Darks’ 8 Films to Die For. (I have been doing a series of reviews for the 2015 festival.) The film has an interesting and unique approach that I’ve never seen done before.
It’s said Murder in the Dark was produced in an experimental shooting style, and the cast of actors were not allowed to see the script. Thus, the actors’ choices would interactively alter the narrative and they had to use clues to solve the whodunnit for themselves.
The idea seems a tidbit vague and I have uncertainties about the extent the improvisation went, but that sure-does sound neat, and after watching the film, it looks like they’re telling the truth, and I am curious on the ins and outs.
The cast includes Luke Arnold, Phil Austin, Yann Bean, Kiran Deol, Eme Ikwuakor, Simone Tang, Murielle Zuker, Eme Ikwuakor, Mary Kate Wiles and Samrat Chakrabarti. Their acting is a highlight for the film. Phil Austin is my favorite for his role, but we’ll talk more about all that stuff after I divulge the plot details.
In the film, a group of young folk play a party game called Murder in the Dark, (Aha! Murder in the Dark is basically a game where you have to find out who the ‘killer’ is, and you eliminate or ‘kill’ until you find the actual killer.) a masked man seems to be killing in the same pattern as the game, and it all goes from there.
The vital flaw in this plot is obvious. It is easy to see who is going down in what order, however, I think they made the most of it. The acting’s all well-done and natural seeming, Phil Austin’s character seemed to have the most depth. I would say that’s also a highlight of the film. Since the film isn’t really as much a slasher, but a high-concept narrative, it allows for a more refreshing approach. The characters have more time and it doesn’t use kills and gratuitous violence as a crutch. (Though, I sort-of kind-of like gratuitous violence, on-account of me being a sociopath.) The character’s aren’t filled with rich-depth, but they are pleasantly presented as worthwhile and likeable stock for the film’s high-concept. They make the most of it and are all they really need to be.
Murder in the Dark’s shot well, and makes stylistic choices one might compare to a found-footage film, without being one, of course. The camera-man creeps abruptly into the middle of conversations and fast-forwards on-occasion. A run-time of about 80 minutes, the film doesn’t waste its time on hanging shots of the scenery or people walking, and I think it turns out for the better. Some horror films fuck-around a lot, and this one’s considerate enough to trim the fat.
The only complaint I have about this film is the final half. The narrative becomes a little muddied, and I am not a big fan of the reveal. Actually, I take that back, it isn’t the reveal I don’t like, but, rather, the whole thing seems sort-of rushed and difficult to appreciate. Which seems … contradicting to what I just finished saying. But, what I was talking about before is wasting time, not encumbering screen-time with too much all at once.
The cast makes the most of what they are given, I enjoyed the plot mostly off the novelty of its creation, but it is also genuinely a fun albeit simple mystery. The cinematography may not be aesthetically pleasing in execution, but I liked their approach they went with. It’s a gimmick film that turned out surprisingly well. In the end, I’d definitely recommend it as a fun whodunnit.