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Dark Corners
cast: Thora Birch, Toby Stephens, Christien Anholt, Joanna Hole, and Michael J. Reynolds

writer and director: Ray Gower

93 minutes (18) 2006
widescreen ratio 1.85:1
Revolver DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 7/10
reviewed by Michael Bunning
Susan Hamilton (Thora Birch) is a successful, happily married woman, undergoing fertility treatment in a community terrorised by a serial killer. When she starts having nightmares, she ascribes them to the stress of trying to have a baby coupled with the fear that the serial killer might come for her or someone she knows. There's something about the nightmares though, something too immediate. Too real...

In her dreams, Susan isn't Susan. She's Karen Clarke: dark-haired where Susan is blonde; wearing black clothes where Susan favours light colours; and Karen lives in a shabby, grubby old house in a crumbling, dirty city, while Susan lives in a bright modern house in idyllic suburbia.

Karen works in a funeral parlour, and on her way there one day, the bus fills up with an assortment of creepy strangers, all of whom stare silently at her or laugh menacingly. When she gets to the funeral parlour, she's told to prepare a body for the casket, but as she's doing so, the corpse opens its eyes and tries to speak to her. Karen panics and flees, home to bed. When she goes to sleep, Susan wakes up.

Susan's dreams of Karen become darker and more disturbing, so she goes to see a hypno-therapist, the slightly sleazy and extremely eerie Dr Woodleigh (Toby Stephens), who seems to solve her nightmare problem. Susan lives happily for a few weeks, but then just as she finds out she's pregnant, the dreams return, and as the serial killer appears to be stalking both Karen and Susan, things only get worse.

Unfortunately, Gower lingers too long on the 'getting worse' part of the film, throwing in plenty of Asian horror and Lynchian motifs (the nightmares are a nice device: as soon as Susan goes to sleep, Karen wakes up, and vice-versa, meaning the audience is never sure which of them is real; and the creepy strangers are effective), but as the running time approaches 80 minutes, the viewer begins to suspect that there's no way Gower can bring all the elements together in a satisfactory ending. Unfortunately, that's true.

The ending is rushed and muddled, with too many plot strands left dangling and a clumsy sequence involving Karen finding a buried box which is supposed to make things clear but actually just changes the interesting weirdness that's pervaded the film to that point into a rather flat 'shock' twist.

Dark Corners isn't really a bad horror film, though. In fact, for 80 minutes, it's really rather creepy. The acting's good, as is the script and the cinematography, and even the story is interesting and tense, keeping the audience guessing as to what's really 'real'. In fact, for a first-time writer-director, it's actually quite a promising effort. There's too much apeing of Lynch and of Asian horror tropes, but at least Gower manages to imbue the film with a tense, creepy atmosphere and attempts to do something interesting with the plot, rather than settling for the standard gore-and-T&A formula that most low-budget horrors seem satisfied with. It's just unfortunate that not enough of Gower's efforts went into a decent ending, as all the dangling strands and the visible plot-holes let things down at the most important moment, and the audience is left feeling either confused, if they didn't quite grasp what was going on during the rushed ending, or cheated if they did.

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