Movie Review : Darkness on the Edge of Town (2014)
Lots of pseudo rock stars and music executives would love to convince you that music is dying. That digital exodus and online streaming murdered the industry. But that's it. An industry is dying, not music itself. A predatory and exploitative industry that is. There's still a lot of great music being made if you're willing to dig. Same goes for the movie industry. Sure, the superhero movies and constant rebooting of franchises is frustrating and obnoxious, but there's a lot of great independent cinema still being made by inspired, struggling artists today.
That said, Darkness on the Edge of Town is kind of obscure. I probably wouldn't have bothered chasing it down if it hadn't been available on Netflix. This little Irish flick is a cerebral puppy. It's bold (sometimes to a fault), but I like a movie that allows me to fill the blanks rather than one who had ready-made answers. Darkness on the Edge of Town is deceptive, obsessive and it got my gears turning quite good and at the end of the day, it's all I can ask for.
So, Darkness on the Edge of Town doesn't have much to do with the über popular Bruce Springsteen song of the same name. Nothing wrong with harvesting song titles for fiction, I do it myself, but it might've forever buried the movie past its theater run in this case. Anyway, it's not exactly a revenge movie like it advertises itself to be either. It appears that way, though. Cleo's sister (Olwen Catherine Kelly) is murdered at the beginning and Cleo (Emma Eliza Regan) is out for blood, but here's the kicker: the audience knows right off the bat who killed her. So, what's the point? Fair question. I'll come back to that.
Darkness on the Edge of Town is a smart and ambitious movie, no doubt about that. It starts with eight minutes without a single line of dialogue and it should be applauded for that filmmaking stunt alone. It's a beautiful movie too, which captures the beauty of Irish landscapes through slightly oversaturated photography and that uses the sound of the sweeping winds in a beautiful, haunting fashion that reminded me of mid-century Westerns. Lots of Western variables are perfectly blended in Darkness on the Edge of Town, which leads me to think it's probably how the Western genre is bound to survive anyway.
I told Josie right after my viewing that Darkness on the Edge of Town was a great concept, but the execution was interestingly flawed. Remember when I said it's not a revenge story? Darkness on the Edge of Town is more of a lesbian love story. I don't have any problem with that angle in itself, which is once again very well executed. Cleo's best friend Robin (Emma Willis) communicates her love through fleeting glimpses and adoring devotion, which gives her an sympathetic edge she's not supposed to have. The problem I have with Darkness on the Edge of Town is that it is fetishizing it's own protagonist.
Now, I wouldn't have issues with other characters fetishizing Cleo. It happens all the time in movies and Robin herself is fetishizing her in the adorable way only teenagers can. The director of the movie seems to be fetishizing Cleo too and really blurs the line as whether it's for his own movie's sake or simply because it turns him on. Perhaps the most blatant fetishization is Cleo's phallic relationship to her rifle. Freud would've called it her, you know, prosthetic masculinity. There's this unbelievable scene where Cleo buys ammunition right next to the no.1 suspect in her sister's murder (Brian Gleeson), where she just LOADS UP her weapon in every possible sense of the term.
There are several other minor fetishizations of Cleo in Darkness on the Edge of Town. She walks around in her leather jacket, mean mugging and not saying a whole lot under close ups that have little to offer outside of contemplation of Emma Eliza Regan. She sure is gorgeous, but she was handpicked to be. Every other character in Darkness on the Edge of Town feels real except for her. She's the embodiment of a sexy, vengeful goddess or whatever. The only hint I've had that director Patrick Ryan didn't give in to his own lust for his lead actress is the several winks the movie makes at exploitation classic Thriller: A Cruel Picture. Cleo most definitely is an homage to iconic rifle-wielding character Frigga.
So yeah, Darkness on the Edge of Town is not an empowering movie for young women, but should it be judged as such? I'm a fan of exploitation movies, but they definitely belong to the past. I cannot bring myself to condemn the way Patrick Ryan alluded to it though, because it was seemlessly blended in a quite unique and competent Freudian thriller. I was creeped out a couple times by Darkness on the Edge of Town, but I'll give Ryan the benefit of the doubt at the end of the day. He directed a strange, obsessive and oddly refreshing thriller that doesn't draw outside the lines all that much and that manages to have interesting and thought provoking flaws. Worth watching for sure.