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“IN DARKNESS WE FALL” (Miami International Film Festival Review)

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Ain’t no party like a Donner party, ‘cause a Donner party don’t…

Wait. That’s not quite accurate, is it?

Wild and wooly though it may remain amongst the feasters, for the feastee—or feastee(s), depending on RSVPs and/or appetites—the party does stop in a brutal and decidedly un-festive manner. Such is but one lesson to be gleaned from Alfredo Montero’s IN DARKNESS WE FALL (aka LA CUEVA), a bleak Spanish found-footage feature that had its North American premiere at the Miami International Film Festival this week.

Another is never, ever, take a film poster tagline as gospel.

Which is to say, if the characters here got wise a little quicker to the fact that “Survival is an instinct, not a choice,” is almost exactly ass-backwards in the context of their predicament, there would be many fewer bodies splayed beneath the stalactites festooning the caves of IN DARKNESS WE FALL?

Alas…

Well, perhaps we’re getting a tad ahead of ourselves. Here’s the set-up: After a brief-yet-truly-creepy opening sequence comprised of shots of the Mediterranean island paradise of Formentera jarringly juxtaposed with an audio mash-up of various, increasingly frantic Where the hell are you? answering machine messages, we are shown a few abandoned tents, then catapulted back in time and introduced to five twentysomethings getting their horseplay on in an airport—two swaggering manchildren, a couple comely young ladies, and one video blog nerd giving us the POV 411 like it’s his job. True, in a meta sense, I suppose, though he might think twice about accepting the gig if he had any inkling of the uber-brutal episode he’s about to document.

The next thirty minutes is pretty paint-by-numbers stuff. The gang makes the last ferry by the skin of their teeth; the guys suggest half-in-jest that the girls get naked; the girls shortly thereafter inexplicably actually get naked; a campground party rages until the implicit dual prophecies of ostentatious puking and fornication have come to pass.

In short, pretty young things doing pretty naughty things—so nubile, so carefree and full of joie de vivre, and, once they find the entrance to a large, labyrinthine cave complex, so doomed.

“This would be perfect for a movie,” dudeguy says. “Five people go in some place and no one comes out alive.”

One would think this would be an argument against, but…

“Guys, we’re going in too far. We’re going to get lost, really.”

Again…yep.

“I don’t think it’ll be too long before we find the exit and it’ll end up just an anecdote.”

No, actually, your ladyfriend more or less hit the nail on the head the first time.

“Plus, I’ll have an awesome video for the blog.”

Depends. How many gallons of blood do you reckon an “awesome video” requires?

What follows is notable as much for what doesn’t transpire as what ultimately does: Those who familiar with the 2005 Neil Marshall masterwork The Descent—i.e. likely every single person destined to ever lay eyes on this review in this outlet—will no doubt brace themselves for some type of ravenous, light-deprived creature to emerge from the darkness.

Those monsters never arrive. Instead, the evil sneaks up on we, the voyeurs, our victims-in-waiting transforming into war-of-all-against-all victimizers as the psychological stress of a mortal danger, as idiotic as it is unnecessary, grows.

The horror here is rooted not in albino cannibalistic humanoid underground dwellers, but, rather in how fast the strictures of modern civilization can be shed.

IN DARKNESS WE FALL is an unsettling portrait of humanity. Its characters are fairly disposable, but that’s okay; they’re archetypal stand-ins for the baseline human beings of a Western world oftentimes overly impressed with itself. And if the pacing is uneven at times—the distance between twist and turn occasionally percolating a bit too long—well, again, that is almost befitting of a story about the fucked up nature of our species.

This is a film that won’t put much pep in your step, but it will probably encourage more than a few moviegoers to examine their own consciences, and that carries its own artistic worth.

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About the author
Shawn Macomber http://www.stopshawnmacomber.com
The ravings of noted South Florida pug wrangler Shawn Macomber have appeared in Decibel, Magnet, Reason, Maxim, Radar, Shroud, and the Wall Street Journal, amongst other fine and middling publications. He also hosts the podcast Into the Depths and pens the metal-lit column Tales From the Metalnomicon for Decibel magazine.
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