In the Winter Dark
review by Paula Nechak, 11 January 2002

The 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.

So 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."

Something 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.

Bogle's 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.

Indeed, 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.

In 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.

Martin 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.

Directed by:
James Bogle

Starring:
Brenda Blethyn
Ray Barrett
Richard Roxburgh
Miranda Otto
Steve Le Marquand
Justin Monjo
Les Dayman
Marjorie Child

Written by:
James Bogle
Peter Rasmussen
Tim Winton

Rated:
NR - Not Rated.
This film has not 
yet been rated.

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