In the Winter Dark
review by Paula Nechak, 11 January 2002
Australian director James Bogle cannot be faulted in the imagination
and invention departments. In 1988 he made an unusual little horror
film called Kadaicha and he continued in the vein with his
second feature, a 1992 black comedy called Mad Bomber In Love.
it was a change of pace for Bogle to adapt his third film, In the
Winter Dark, from a primary source written by someone else.
Based on an eerie, spare book by noted Aussie writer Tim Winton, In
the Winter Dark focuses on four people who live in a secluded
and marshy rural area of Australia called "The Sink."
has been mutilating and killing the farm animals and Maurice Stubbs
(Ray Barrett), his wife Ida (Brenda Blethyn) and neighbor Murray
Jacob (Richard Roxburgh) are determined to track it down. They're
aided by Ronnie (Miranda Otto), a self-destructive, pregnant woman
who lives across the way.
film avoids the pop excitability of most recent Aussie imports and
tells volumes in its quiet, unspoken stillness. As a psychological
drama it's a stark, complex movie about isolation and a terror that
cannot be seen. "Something black, I don't exactly know" is
how narrator, Maurice,
describes it. The blackness may be within Maurice himself as his
demons and the emptiness of a joyless marriage to Ida finally erupt
into fear and violence.
over the course of a few days and desolate nights the quartet form
an uneasy alliance and bond which is shattered by tragedy and the
emergence of ghosts from the past. In the Winter Dark, which
was released Down Under in 1998, emerged during a stretch of time
that brought more nihilistic, relentless fare from the usually loopy
Australian cinema. Indeed difficult and repugnant dramas like Rowan
Woods' 1997 The Boys permeated theaters and even carted off
awards from the Australian Film Institute.
the Winter Dark
is a horror film in its own rite, earning three nominations from the
AFI in 1998 - for Cinematography, Best Actor for Ray Barrett and
Supporting Actress for Miranda Otto and the nominations are telling
in pinpointing the film's strengths. Like Who's Afraid of
Virginia Woolf, of which the film is strongly reminiscent, the
actors are its asset, managing to make some semblance of a story out
of what is essentially murky action that takes place in the mind.
McGrath's cinematography also added to the queasy tone with its
purples and blues and shadows. But despite these high points, In
the Winter Dark is too internalized and segregated to rate as a
successful film. Because we see from Maurice's eye and through his
mental state of being it's near impossible to find the perspective
(or the compassion and empathy) that would allow us access to the
other characters. Ronnie and Murray are essentially enigmas and poor
Ida, pained and miserable, is just too sorrowful to reach. Even her
single moment of drunken joy with Ronnie is pervaded by the past and
dominated obliquely by Maurice. These are people that we hope to God
we never meet, much less spend two hours with, no matter how much
vision and atmosphere surrounds them and how well the actors perform
and reenact their dismal, dank lives.
Steve Le Marquand
NR - Not Rated.
This film has not
yet been rated.