Dark Souls (2010)
I really did want to love Dark Souls. Going into it, I knew nothing about it, outside of a brief synopsis, and that was part of the attraction. It’s rare to go into a movie totally unspoiled anymore, but doing so can really enhance the experience, especially for horror movies. No advance knowledge of plot points or character deaths, being spooked by scenes you haven’t been shown in the trailers 1000 times already. It really can help you like the movie more when it’s completely new. Sadly, it didn’t help enough.
Dark Souls (or Mørke Sjeler, as it’s called in its native Norway) opens up with Johanna, a young woman on her morning run, being attacked by a man with a drill. Eventually, he catches up to her, and well…let’s just say he uses the drill. But when the police call her father to inform him of her death, he tells them that she’s just walked in the door. Shortly after this, Johanna starts spewing black stuff and goes catatonic. While the doctors try to figure out what the hell is wrong with her, the police struggle to explain how a supposedly dead woman walked herself out of the morgue. Quickly frustrated by both parties’ lack of progress, Johann’s father Morten decides to take his daughter home and care for her himself while he launches his own investigation into her attack.
Fast-forward a month: the number of victims is now over 30, and all of the victims are displaying the same signs as Johanna. The public is understandably upset about this, and the only lead the police have is that several witnesses have spotted a man in a bright orange jumpsuit fleeing some of the attacks. Morten, however, is able to discover the identity of his daughter’s attacker. But the truth behind her attack is much deeper than he expected, and it’s much worse than he could have ever thought.
I can’t say anything more about the plot without spoiling it, but I do want to say that the plot in the final third of the movie is possibly Dark Soul‘s biggest weakness. We never learn why the villain is drilling holes in people’s heads and infecting them with this black stuff. Is it just for the sake of being evil? Is he trying to bring about a zombie apocalypse? If so, why? And for that matter, who the hell is this guy, anyway? Some movies can get away with not explaining their bad guy’s motives. For some, it can even be a strength, like The Strangers. But that’s not the case here. We get a partial explanation as to where the black oil comes from, but even that just left me with more questions.
Also problematic is the behavior of many of the characters, which at times veers dangerously close to suicidal idiocy. Even though several of the attacks have been carried out by a man in an orange jumpsuit, the police never seem to have any interest in questioning the employees of an oil company, all of whom wear (wait for it)…orange jumpsuits! At one point, a prostitute shows no fear of an orange jumpsuit-wearing john, even though he’s also wearing a mask over his face. Girl, I know you’ve got to make a living, but put down the idiot ball and think about this for one second. And of course, the main detective on the case chooses not to inform anyone where he’s going on his investigation. After he gets into trouble, he never uses his cell phone to call for backup. Later, a nurse opts to follow the trail of an infected person into a darkened room. My god woman, forget genre-savviness, try common sense! And the mysterious, unidentified substance the driller’s victims keep vomiting up? Which might be carrying god only knows what kind of contagion? The hospital staff freely dumps it down the drain.
I don’t mean to make it sound like I didn’t enjoy Dark Souls at all. Although it definitely has its flaws, it’s still a pretty enjoyable film. Even though the plot ultimately disappoints, it’s pretty creepy, and the unknown nature of the infection makes its progression all the more scary. There’s a few legitimate scare to be found, particularly towards the end, when the infection begins spreading rapidly. Despite the plot-mandated stupidity of the aforementioned scene involving the nurse, it’s still suspenseful, as the infectee begins crawling out of the darkness. And the state of the infectees themselves is satisfyingly nasty; by the end of the film, they’re downright nightmare-inducing. Also, I should mention the acting here: the movie takes it time getting into the horror, instead letting the story of Morten’s quest to save his daughter drive the movie to its conclusion. Morten Rudå gives a very convincing performance as a father whose love of his daughter leads him to wholly dedicate his life to saving her. Since he gets the bulk of the screen time, it’s good he’s able to carry the movie.
In the end, though, Dark Souls has a few too many weaknesses to be the great horror film it could have been. There’s too many instances of characters being stupid for no reason, or putting themselves in danger when a simple cell phone call would help them. And we know they’ve got them; they just never use them, seemingly just to extend the movie’s running time. If it manages to get a release beyond the festival circuit, I’d only recommend it for serious horror movie buffs.