Damn, sheep-herders! Cheer up!
After her father (Sean Bean) dies, Alice (Ruth Wilson) returns home for the first time in what seems like forever and it seems like the old wounds are still there. Her brother, Joe (Mark Stanley), is a loose cannon, doesn’t know what to do with the family farm, and is still reeling from some sort of trauma he and Alice suffered when they were kids. But what was it? Better yet, why does it still hurt them to this very day? Whatever it is, they’re going to have to band together and do their best to keep the farm up-and-running, even when it seems like there’s absolutely no funds for them to continue it.
Dark River is the kind of depressing, altogether miserable movie that, by the time it was over, I was glad. I felt like a weight had been lifted off of my shoulder, I could now cool out, chill down, relax, and continue on with my day and hopefully, just hopefully, not have to do anything awfully hard or stressful. It’s the kind of dark and sad movie that I’ll probably never revisit again, recommend to my friends, or hell, be talking about by the time the year is over.
Does that make it a bad movie? Actually, no. In fact, Dark River is a good movie. It also just so happens to be ridiculously miserable and sad, making you feel as if you not only walked into the wrong funeral, but a few altogether.
And that’s sort of the point, isn’t it?
Dark River is a lot like two movies from last year (God’s Own Country, the Leveling) in that they all deal with family-troubles, depression, secrets and, with the most obvious element of all, family-farms. Dark River is much more like the later of the two, in that it’s much more meaner, sad and upsetting, but like that movie, it does feel earned; you get and understand that these characters are just trying to do what they can to get past this ridiculous trauma that has held them back so much in their respective lives, even if they want to admit it or not. The long, sometimes beautiful terrain surrounding them only makes them feel more alone and depressed, allowing for them to do what they can to feel any form of happiness, whether it be through someone, or something.
In Dark River‘s case, there’s never really any happiness. Just sadness, misery and trauma – lots and lots of trauma.
But like I said, that’s sort of the point and writer/director Clio Barnard revels in it all so much, there’s a part of you that may just wish she cheered-up, even if just a little bit. See, why those two movies I mentioned earlier worked a tad bit better than Dark River is that, in their own cases, there was something resembling a light at the end of the tunnel – a positive note, if you will, no matter how small or large. In Dark River, there is really no positive light to be found, and because of that, the movie feels like just one scene of misery, after another, without much in the way of solace, or even hope.
Once again, that is the point of Dark River, but does that make it a better movie? Not really. It mostly gets by on the performances from Mark Stanley and most especially, Ruth Wilson, who anchor this movie and give us some bright spots, even when everything else is so dour. Wilson is especially great, showing us a character that underneath all of the beauty and charm, is truly hurting and needs to let the world know about it.
And she does. So does the whole entire movie. And now I need some ice cream.
Consensus: As upsetting as it can be and stay as, Dark River still benefits from an understated, emotionally raw script and direction, as well as two solid performances from Stanley and Wilson. Also, Sean Bean dies in this in case you couldn’t tell, so I guess there is some comedy in that. Maybe.
7 / 10
Photos Courtesy of: FilmRise