Director: Coz Greenop
Writer: Coz Greenop
Stars: April Pearson, Jon Campling, Lynne Anne Rodgers
Runtime: 75 minutes
Someone once told me the difference between a narrative that is ambiguous and one that is abstruse. With ambiguity, there are multiple possible meanings, and it’s not clear which is the truth. With abstruseness, there is no meaning; any message that might have been intended is obscured completely. Dark Beacon, I assume, aims for the former, but unfortunately ends up as the latter.
The film opens with a striking slow motion shot of a couple on a cliff edge, the man jumping, his hand clasped tight around the woman’s wrist as he drags her over the edge. The opening credits are cut with shots of the water moving, the woman’s hair turning like the waves, the silk of her dress curling as it dances in the tide. It’s a visually beautiful opening, and presents an immediate question; who are these people, and what led them here?
This question is the driving force and motivation to keep watching in a confusing and unexplained story. The two leads are Amy (Skins‘s April Pearson) and Beth (Lynne Anne Rodgers), two ex-lovers who now seem to have a tense relationship. Beth has recently moved with her daughter to an isolated lighthouse, cut off from the rest of the world by the sea that covers the road for twenty-three hours a day. As Amy is forced to stay with Beth and her daughter by the rising tide, the three circle each other within the house. Amy is clearly not over Beth, Beth is not over her deceased husband Christian (Toby Osmond), and it unfolds as any love triangle might, despite one of the three being dead. Added into the mix is Beth’s daughter Maya (Kendra Mei), who refuses to speak, and acts as another source for Beth’s guilt and jealousy.
It’s all very complicated, but the story feels boring. Visually, the scenes are suffused with a smokiness (did they do any colour grading at all?) which is appropriate because the narrative is obscure as well. For the first forty minutes, the plot seems simple; it’s a character-driven film, in which we watch these characters as they’re put to the test while trapped with each other on a tiny island. When the turn comes and the secrets of their past are revealed, with twenty minutes left, our suspicions are confirmed. And then suddenly the film quite literally loses the plot.
Common horror tropes are played with throughout; the ambiguity of Christian’s spectral presence and Beth’s declining mental health, the spookiness of a solemn and violent child, and the eeriness of the water that surrounds everything are all factors which could work well. However, the final sequence is so full of random action and events that all of this buildup turns out to be for nothing. As the ghost of Christian reaches his full power, Amy struggles in a bathtub, someone gets stabbed and the ambiguity that could have worked so well is replaced with utter confusion. At the beginning of the film, we’re introduced to a siren which sounds to warn of the incoming tide — a brilliantly unsettling device which I expected to be a central return. Instead it vanishes. What a waste.
Dark Beacon uses its remote setting to create a claustrophobic narrative where each character is totally inward-facing; the outside world doesn’t exist for them. However, for this simple set-up to work the film needed an internal logic that just wasn’t present. The ending seemed random and unsatisfactory, the pacing felt off, and by the end of the film, I honestly couldn’t tell you what was going on. Finally after everything is over, they push a twist into the last second, which feels cheap and unnecessary. The visuals are in places beautiful, and the setting and characters have the potential to create an atmospheric story — but without any sort of clear message or direction, the audience is kept in the dark.
Dark Beacon is out now in cinemas and on Digital Download.