Review: In Darkness

In Darkness is billed as another true story surrounding the persecution of the Jews during the Nazi quest for power; this one tells of a low-paid sewer worker in Nazi occupied Poland who shelters a group of Jews from the Nazis in the labyrinthine underworld beneath their feet.

I had and have qualms about this film. I am unsure as to whether it actually needed to be made, as the ground it is treading feels somewhat familiar. The phrases – ‘An epic tale of survival against the odds’ and ‘A true testament to the human spirit’ – are beginning to feel a little tired and worn at the edges by this sort of movie.

The problem, to put it succinctly, is that many will leave this film feeling – quite correctly – that they have not experienced or seen anything that they didn’t already know. But of course, to say that this is one of the film’s flaws is to assume that unoriginality is immediately a detriment to the quality of the film. Does the fact that In Darkness offers nothing particularly fresh theme-wise spoil it?

Not necessarily. The two things that really stood out to me about this movie are its unsentimental execution of the plot, and the editing and cinematography. In many ways, In Darkness is a film that should be admired: its heart is in the right place, it has a story that is told with flair, using techniques that compel the viewer and draw him into the plot, and it is righteous and honest. But more than anything, it does not kid itself about human nature. The lines between human evil, cruelty and sin are not as clear cut as ‘the Nazis’ on one side and ‘the opposition’ on the other. Greed, corruption, prejudice and heartlessness are things which we are all capable of, and here, the filmmakers waste no time in revealing the darker sides of their heroes as well as their antagonists.

The other is the editing and cinematography. It is beautiful, slightly bleached and drained of colour – creating a cold, icy atmosphere, pervaded by a perpetual sense of dread and the haunted memories of barbaric violence. The camera very often disorientates and confuses us, to try and create a fragmented, manic feel during moments of intense action. It is expertly done; the crew working on In Darkness definitely knew what they were doing.

In Darkness is a very accomplished film. The fact that it revealed nothing particularly new to me only decreased its power and dramatic effect slightly; the truths it relates are none the less true or horrific for being repeated. It is the way that they are presented and how they are interwoven into the narrative that should impress here. It is a film which contains many great scenes, and creates characters that are not cardboard cut-outs – but real people who we can imagine having existed. Much of the movie is grim and hard to watch – but what else can we possibly expect? There are also moments of poetry and great tenderness (as the characters grow throughout the movie), but never sentimentality. That I respect, and in my opinion, In Darkness is a formidable piece of cinema. I highly recommend it.

15 certificate

Review by LiveWire Young Film Critic, James Martin (March ’12)