23rd Aug2019

Frightfest 2019: ‘Dark Encounter’ Review

by Chris Cummings

Stars: Laura Fraser, Mel Raido, Vincent Regan, Alice Lowe, Sid Phoenix, Grant Masters, Spike White, Nicholas Pinnock | Written and Directed by Carl Strathie

“Something’s happenin’. Something unnatural. Something evil”.


Written and directed by Carl Strathie (Solis), Dark Encounter is the story of a family in grief after the strange disappearance of their young eight year old daughter. We check in with them one year after their little girl vanished and witness unusual things beginning to happen, from unusual flashing lights in the woods and other obscure phenomenon. The now fractured and cracked family are soon left bewildered by it all, and what follows is an invasive series of events involving life from another world amidst a backdrop of family issues, a marriage falling apart and uncomfortable interactions between individuals with their own unique concerns and demons.

There are definite elements of horror to be found in Dark Encounter. The creepy tense scenes add a dark and haunting mood that grows as the story progresses and the plot reveals itself further. The story itself is interesting, from the vision of a splintered family with a variety of internal conflicts, to the disappearance of a young girl causing a knock-on-effect that is felt like an earthquake across all of these people, to the disruption and terrorism of this other-worldly force that the family find themselves surrounded by. It’s written with a real emphasis on the tortured minds of the characters and a swelling dark tone. There are certain scenes and sequences where the film could, if it weren’t an alien invasion story, be confused for a home invasion horror film, or a movie about a poltergeist.

Something I appreciated about Dark Encounter, and something that certainly worked in the film’s favour, was the chosen route to show as little as possible and leave plenty to the imagination. When it comes to ghosts and aliens I always find that the tension and creepiness is upped by the mind of the viewers themselves, and Strathie chose to do that here. We see very little of the invading forces, yet the shadows, flickering lights, moving items and reactions of the characters is enough to create scenes of terror. When it refuses to clearly show you things, the film is at its strongest. The portrayals of mourning, of these people dealing with this unexplainable loss, is done so well. The performances from the cast are strong and believably morose, showing the anger, hopelessness and the confusion that comes with their initial feelings and eventually their fear and shock.

There are, on occasion, moments of corniness that feel a touch over-the-top but it’s not often. There is also some questionable dialogue (this specifically stood out to me with the Sheriff’s visit to the family home and the resulting questions he asked), but again, this is rare, and doesn’t effect the enjoyment of the film. Overall, I was really impressed with the actors, especially Grant Masters who plays Kenneth, the uncle to the missing daughter, Maisie, and towns sheriff. His tormented guilt-ridden characterisation is delivered with a real sense of humanity. Laura Fraser (The Missing) as Olivia, the mother of Maisie, delivers a subtle, portrayal of a woman in a haze, her shock regarding everything that has happened and is happening is shown in a way that isn’t too wild or unbelievable. Mel Raido (Legend), as Ray, the pissed-off and bitter father of Maisie, delivers a gritty and angry performance that creates tension between Ray and most of the other characters, from his younger Brother Billy (Sid Phoenix) and his teenage son Noah (Spike White). Really, though, there isn’t really a weak performance to be found here, with everyone delivering and pushing the film forward. The twists and turns aren’t so frequent that they lose you in the maze of them all, but happen enough to keep you interested and involved. It isn’t a film that shy’s away from taking you places that you don’t expect, and I liked that.

The cinematography from Bart Sienkiewicz (Solis) is slick and concise, and along with the locations, rural and somewhat isolated with plenty of woodland, it looks pretty damn gorgeous. Additionally, the music from David Stone Hamilton (Solis, Gremlin) fits like a glove with the tone and atmosphere of the film. Really, it’s a pretty harmonious experience, with top notch visuals and sound to go along with the well-penned story and nicely delivered performances from the array of actors. Strathie has, with an obviously limited budget, created a really interesting film that, while it may not be entirely original or exceptional, is intriguing and entertaining, and hits a higher quality than I’d expected it to.

Dark Encounter is, it must be said, a bit of a slow-burner. It doesn’t rush and it spends a lot of time in the quiet before the storm, and even longer in the heart of that storm. The prolonged moments of dread and panic as the characters are experiencing these strange disturbing things are strong and deliver the most dramatic and intense scenes in the film. The unhurried nature of the film may not click for some people, but it mostly worked for me. Haunting, unpredictable and intense but with enough drama to give it heart, this is a riveting out-of-this-world sci-fi horror film. Dark Encounter delivers the goods for an hour and a half, and it exceeded my expectations for sure. I’d say this is one to look out for.

*** 3/5

Dark Encounter screened on Friday August 23rd 2019 as part of this years Arrow Video Frightfest.


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