In Darkness offers a well-made and engaging mystery that is propelled along by the star power of Natalie Dormer, as a blind pianist who overhears a murder. Unfortunately, its reach exceeds its grasp and expansive ambitions prove its undoing.
In Darkness is about a blind woman, a pianist played by Natalie Dormer who overhears a murder, but it’s something of an eye-opener all the same. How might it feel, for instance, to be forced off of the London tube at an unfamiliar stop, just because someone had thoughtlessly thrown themselves on the track further down the line? It’s annoying whoever you are, but if you’re blind it’s a nightmare. In Darkness is full of small details like that, the kind that clue you in to how Dormer’s character, Sofia, negotiates her sightless world.
It’s probably fitting, too, that the movie overreaches and ends up bumping its head.
It’s a clever movie, this, and capably directed by Anthony Byrne, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Dormer herself. Take the opening, for instance. A close-up shot of a woman being strangled set to ominous orchestral strings pulls back from the point of view of the strangler, far enough to take in a screen, and then further still to expose the actual orchestra providing the murder’s music. Aha. Sofia’s a part of it, and we follow her home to her apartment and meet her neighbour, Veronique (Emily Ratajkowski), whose accent is almost comically absurd and whose perfume becomes a relatively major plot point after In Darkness starts to get silly.
Before that, though, it’s captivating. The next day, Sofia hears Veronique fall to her death from the apartment upstairs. But did she really fall? Or was she pushed?
If this had stayed the central dramatic question of In Darkness, it would have been a better movie, if a notably less ambitious one. But when Detective Mills (Neil Maskell) starts to make inquiries about Veronique’s death, the abundance of clues add up to something far more than a Hitchcockian murder-mystery. Does Sofia know more than she’s letting on? And why does she keep receiving cards in her mailbox, printed with braille, that she burns after reading?
I won’t give much away. Just know that it comes to involve Veronique’s father, Radic (Jan Bijvoet), Bosnian war crimes, and a hunky Ed Skrein keeping his cards close to his chest. There’s finger-breaking, face-punching and moralising, all of which feels a bit much considering the movie’s staid and suspenseful opening act. A better version of In Darkness probably doesn’t need all that stuff. A better version would also likely refrain from undermining its heroine’s toughness by having her play damsel, blind or otherwise, or muddying its moralistic overtones by relishing violence and sadism quite as much as it does.
As things stand, In Darkness is a fine film, often even a good one, but falls short of being great by biting off more than it can chew.