During the Q&A after the screening, star and director Thomas Jane lamented some of the shots of his film, and, deriding himself a bit good-naturedly, likened his movie to a grindhouse film that was made in the 1950s. That is a pretty apt description of this 3D noir that coasts on its Sky Captain-meets-Sin City visual stylings when logic abandons the film in the second half. Stars Jane and Lauren German take a road trip through the back roads of the Twilight Zone to an extent that it wouldn’t be hard for one to imagine that the poor bastard they pick up in their back seat, known only as Bloodyface, is none other than Rod Serling, exhumed and beat to hell. Dark Country is a movie that is perfect for a stylized fest such as 3DFF, but is far too niche beyond that.
Jane and German are Dick and Gina, newlywed strangers who have just engaged in the Vegas past time of the quickie marriage. After a torrid wedding night in a roadside motel, they’re planning a trip to Sedona for their honeymoon and more torrid activities. Dick narrates the opening moments in classic noir voiceover, which is tinged with a foreboding of the unusual things to come. A glancing conversation with a strange man in the diner before he leaves with Gina only adds to Dick’s seeming unease that he’s going to be in for some weird shit, although the nature of what that will be eludes him. The man tells him to stick to the freeway because that stretch of road has swallowed up people who have never been seen again.
The road trip is backdropped by eerie desert vistas and heat lightning in the fading sunlight. The early part of it is highlighted by Gina molesting an ice cube in delicious fashion and Dick doing his best not to crash as he watches. But his efforts are soon for naught as he indeed is driven off the road by a bloody figure standing in the middle of it next to his crashed car. A freaked out Dick and Gina put him in their back seat and search for a hospital, although they themselves are essentially lost. When the man comes to, he carries on babbling and incoherent, yet disturbing conversation with the newlyweds as if he knows them both. There are thinly veiled innuendos aimed at Gina that arouse Dick’s suspicions about her. When the man ends up attacking Dick for no reason, Dick is forced to kill him. A panicked excursion into the desert night to bury the body sets off a chain of events that not only bend reality, but twist it like a pretzel with scoliosis.
Director Jane seems to have a good feel for exactly the movie he’s going for here. About the film he’s previously stated: “I wanted to make a movie that was for people who enjoy movies that are off the beaten track, you know? I wanted to make a movie for fans of cult films, for fans of The Twilight Zone, for guys who stayed up late to watch The Outer Limits when they were probably too young to do that.” On that note he’s mostly succeeded. Dark Country is a pulpy graphic novel that follows the noir playbook faithfully and while, occasionally falling into some of the overused elements of the genre, is self aware enough of its own size to prevent its ambitions from derailing it. Jane makes good use of 3D and he and cinematographer, Geoff Boyle (Street Fighter: the Legend of Chun Li), craft a fairly-stylized, muted Technicolor noir. The film is shot for 3D and together with some interior car process shots, add a great look to the movie.
Aside from the visuals, the film is also carried mostly by Jane’s and German’s chemistry that just vaguely recollects True Romance. Ron Perlman is also a welcome, although underused presence. But the Tab Murphy script starts to unravel somewhat in the second half, as the fantastic elements that take place don’t have enough meat on them to completely let you know what’s going on. The film is clearly left open to interpretation, but without all the dots you need to connect the unseen. If a certain character is descending into madness, there isn’t enough to really establish it, and the fate of a body or two are too open-ended to provide a completely satisfactory resolution. Is the character’s mind screwing with him/her or is his/her surroundings? Only Rod knows for sure.
The 3DFF screening was a muted but entertaining affair and Jane was very personable and approachable (and a fan of the site apparently). The moderator thankfully kept the Q&A to about 10 minutes since it was midnight when the film ended. But Jane, sporting a stogie in his hand, was informative and fun in answering the questions. Overall, it was a good evening.
Special note about looking Dark Country up on IMDB before seeing it: Don’t. The credits spoil the shit out of the key reveal of the film.