American Adele (Maria Bello) is estranged from her English husband James (Sean Bean) and has a tension fraught relationship with her daughter Sarah (Sophie Stuckey). They have travelled over to a remote part of Wales, where James now lives, to visit him and Sarah hopes to stay with him instead of going back with her mother, no matter how Adele may feel about that. Driving on the way there, they get lost although Adele is reluctant to admit it, and have to spend the night in the car. When Adele wakes, she catches sight of her daughter wandering too close to the cliffs and disappearing behind a stone monolith, but when she goes to investigate and is pushed over she suddenly wakes. Yet soon the family will be part of a nightmare they cannot shake off so easily...
Nothing to do with James Herbert's novel The Dark, this was in fact a loose adaptation of Simon Maginn's novel Sheep, screenwritten by Stephen Massicotte. Ah, the sheep; these animals are not traditionally the most scary or intimidating beasts on Earth, although if you were being charged by a ram I guess you'd know about it, but here they're part of the set up and supposed to be unsettling. When Adele and Sarah finally meet James, Sarah goes out to investigate the cliff top and is nearly pushed off by a minor sheepish stampede, which includes sheepy suicides as they hurl themselves over to the sea below.
And the sheep turn up later on, too. However, what most concerns us is the strained family relationships as we are treated to flashbacks of Adele arguing with Sarah (and if you're worried about forgetting the girl's name, it's helpfully repeated about a million times by the other cast members). Even though it's plain Adele loves her daughter, she is nevertheless exasperated by her and doesn't want to give her up to her father. Then, tragedy strikes: while out investigating the rocks by the seashore, Sarah appears to fall in (or is she pushed?) and her parents dive in panicking to find her when they see her shoe bobbing around in the waves.
Sarah seems to have gone, so why does Adele, in an echo of Don't Look Now (and not the only echo, either) keep catching glimpses of her? If she's not dead then where is she? Is her mother's preoccupation with the local history a symptom of grief or is she correct in her suspicions? What is then introduced is a long ago cult member who practiced trepanning on his flock, including his daughter (Abigail Stone), and eventually sent them over the cliff to their doom in a misplaced act of faith. Could he be having an influence from beyond the grave? Well, let's just say, "sort of".
The Dark's strongest suit is its sense of place, with some exquisite locations on the Isle of Man standing in for Wales and creating a splendidly brooding atmosphere. Another strength is the film's attitude towards children, both wary and unnerved, but worried and protective as well, and this ambiguity helps with the mood of uncertainty. Against it is director John Fawcett's insistence on making the audience jump with loud noises or sudden flashes of action, which might work on some viewers the first hundred times, but becomes wearing after a while. The cast put in good work all round, from the creepy kids to the troubled adults, and even if the general murkiness of what is really going on is kept a little too obscure the ending doesn't cop out with an "all lived happily ever after" resolution. This film won't be regarded as a classic, but it's a solid, second division ghost story all the same. Music by Edmund Butt.
[The Region 2 DVD features interviews with all the main cast and many of the main crew (did the director get hit in the mouth recently before his interview?), a trailer and an alternative ending, too.]