Michael J. Reynolds
Weird Monster Horror
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Dark Corners (2006)
30th Sep 08
Beloved British shit-com actor Thora Birch playing dual roles in a grisly mindfuck movie featuring jokes about cadavers with hard-ons?! Oh, wait…it’s Thora Birch!
David Lynch has a lot to answer for, not least for the fact that he has made it impossible to listen to Roy Orbison’s darkly beautiful “In Dreams” without picturing a bunch of fat chicks gyrating on a car in front of a terrifyingly off-the-chain Dennis Hopper. The UK-US co-production Dark Corners is Lynch-lite for sure, though it’s also a satisfyingly unnerving genre-blending mind fuck for those not up to the task of sitting through three hours of Inland Empire.
Perky blonde office worker Thora Birch is happy in her relationship with hunky Christien Anholt though is undergoing fertility treatment and suffers from traumatic nightmares involving a downbeat, abused brunette (also Birch) who leads a miserable existence at a funeral home working for a mordantly funny weirdo (“…pureed all over the sidewalk…the stains were there all summer…!”). Regular visits to reassuring Brit psychoanalyst Toby Stephens seem to help with the recurring nightmares but the strange parallel existence of which she dreams starts to blur into her reality, and both incarnations of Birch seem to be stalked by the vicious serial killer the media unimaginatively nickname “The Night Stalker”. (Wot, Darren McGavin’s back from the dead?!). This guy’s speciality is eviscerating women in churches, but is he the hooded figure stalking our heroine?
Dark Corners telegraphs its fashionable, Every-Movie-Should-Have-One twist early on with a stretch of dialogue justifying the blandly ambiguous title, but it’s still an effectively creepy wallow in weirdness. If you’re any kind of Thora-fancier, prepare to have an inner debate about which guise (miserable Goth, troubled but bright eyed blonde) is hotter, though on a performance level the underrated actress is typically good as a young woman trapped in an endless loop of personal torture. Too bad her fine turn in American Beauty failed to lead to a solid mainstream career.
Director Ray Gower borrows key parts of his rubber-reality scenario and surrealistic imagery from Lynch : the casting of Birch as two versions of the same person is right out of Lost Highway, while a slo-mo, impossibly cheery glimpse of suburban life could be an unused moment from the Blue Velvetcutting room floor. Equally Lynch-like in its disarmingly amusing oddness is a left-field running gag spoofing TV news : stories of evisceration and mutilation lapse into upbeat “and finally” type items about shrinking dogs.
The sense of disorientation sustained from the very start is enhanced by the presence of numerous divertingly weird secondary characters. With the exception of Anholt, everyone in the movie is at least a little “off”, from Birch’s dirty-talking middle-aged work colleague (“after three kids, my vagina has all the elasticity of an over-stretched tube sock!”) to Stephens’ initially warm shrink, whose unsettling solitary painted-black fingernail is an early hint at his true pantie-sniffing nut job status. Arguably the most fun to be had is with the overweight, loudly guffawing funeral home lady who gains much amusement from corpse erections : “We used to get four or five of these a week - where did all the love go?” she laments while snapping a stiff’s stiffy with vigour.
The movie maintains an uneasy ambience as it employs Expressionistic shadows, off-kilter camera angles and ominous mise en scene to impressive effect, while dabbling with Saw-era sadism. Graphic throat slashings show up courtesy of a lunatic who likes to file his teeth down to vampiric points and is fond of torturing bound victims. Evil kids, grisly embryo removal and other nastiness figure in the spiralling narrative, though probably the most powerfully unpleasant sequence is conveyed discreetly via a reaction shot of Birch as she watches some extreme violence on a video camera.