Dir: Marina De Van
Written By: Marina De Van
Starring: Missy Keating, Marcella Plunkett, Padraic Delaney, Charlotte Flyvholm
UK release: 13th October 2014 – Metrodome Distribution
Following the massacre of her family troubled Niamh moves in with a neighbouring couple and tries to put her life back together. But, when unexplained occurrences start labelling her a suspect in the murders, things take a sinister turn.
Dubbed “the Irish Carrie” – presumably by someone who’s never seen De Palma’s seminal, coming-of-age shocker – Dark Touch follows Missy Keating, daughter of Ronan, as the child blessed/cursed with telekinetic powers in unforgiving, small town Ireland. If that sounds like a weird premise, it’s because it is. And it works about as well as one might assume.
After the massacre of her entire family, young Niamh (Keating) moves in with a couple of kindly neighbours in an effort to move on with her life. But, when spooky things start happening, Lucas (Delaney) starts to suspect Niamh is to blame, and that she may have had more to do with the murders than she’s letting on. His wife (Plunkett) remains convinced that, as a victim of child abuse, she is simply disturbed and unused to normal life, and refuses to believe anything sinister is afoot, even when the evidence mounts against Niamh.
Ireland isn’t exactly known for its horror – the less said about the disgraceful Shrooms the better – and it’s interesting to note that writer/director De Van actually hails from France. The film is actually a Swedish, French and Irish co-production, with the remote area in which she sets her story remaining unnamed. It doesn’t really resemble Ireland, in spite of the torrential rain plaguing the film’s opening moments, and there’s no spatial awareness, so it’s never clear how big the village is, how far the houses are from each other, or even where the local school is. Most of the action is limited to one, rather grand house but there’s no sense of how big it is, where any of the rooms are in relation to each other or how easily it would be escaped.
The heavy accents make everything unintentionally funny too, especially considering the very, very British social worker (sporting the fakest pregnancy belly in the history of cinema) over-pronounces even the simplest words, making everyone else sound like a yokel in comparison. The central cast isn’t helped by a ropey, exposition-heavy script and there are some dodgy, overly-dramatic performances on show here as a result. Plunkett and Delaney, who deserve much better than this, are likeable enough as the couple who unwittingly take Niamh in, but their parts are reduced to background noise as the kid takes centre-stage, while the social worker does little besides sit and listen quietly, offering no resolution to the poor child.
Keating, to her credit, does a decent job communicating her inner anguish, with what few lines she’s given, but even she can’t make her role as the instigator of a bloody, telekinetic massacre in the middle of the bog seem believable. As an actress, she more than holds her own, but she requires a far meatier role than this to really show off what she can do. However, at the very least, she’s already outshone her Da, who has thus far performed Postman Pat’s singing voice, in a widely-panned kids’ film, along with the husband of a wannabe singer in the tonally weird Goddess.
Dark Touch has two, very distinct, Major Moments that take place at the beginning and the end, with a bloated middle consisting mainly of knowing looks and overlong silences. The massacre is the most well-handled and shocking sequence of the entire film, grisly and gory and horrible, so it’s a shame that it happens within the first half hour. It almost feels as though the movie has shot its load too early, because although it aims to end on just as high a note, it takes too long to get there and the road is much too clearly signposted.
The final shot is brave and arguably quite shocking, too, but it doesn’t make any sense whatsoever. It’s nothing particularly new either, and even casual genre fans will poke holes in it. Christophe Chassol’s nicely tinkling score is perhaps the only element of the film that really works, and it does lend an element of atmosphere to certain key sequences – particularly when juxtaposed with a barking dog and a screeching baby – but it cannot elevate the cliché-ridden material.
Towards the final act, it becomes apparent that De Van cannot decide whether Niamh is inherently evil, or just a messed up kid. She becomes something of a saviour for abused children, but then acts out by burning everyone’s dollies at a birthday party. It’s a weird contradiction for a character who already cannot stand to sleep alone and who moves things, as she admits herself, “when I cry” suggesting deep-seated emotional issues that would possibly be best solved through therapy. As one character matter-of-factly notes, there are a lot of unanswered questions here, and De Van doesn’t seem quite sure which side to take. Niamh is, therefore, neither heroine nor villain.
Following a gory, well-staged sequence early on, Dark Touch devolves into a melodramatic, painfully slow trudge towards a ludicrous, yet very well-telegraphed ending that will leave even the most gracious viewer rolling his/her eyes. Every cliché imaginable is utilised, and the horrific abuse Niamh has supposedly suffered is grossly mishandled in favour of blatantly labelling her a murderous psychopath, while simultaneously showing her as a timid, hurt little girl. The film wasn’t very well-received at Frightfest 2013 (though it wasn’t quite as hated as Banshee Chapter) and it’s easy to see why – non-horror fans will be bored by the lack of scrares, while genre enthusiasts will be able to spot the twists and turns coming a mile off.
Neither better nor worse than the recent Carrie remake, Dark Touch boasts a winning central performance from Missy Keating, but little else to mark it as anything particularly noteworthy. Not quite as insufferable as Shrooms, but only just.