Reel Advice from the Video Store Guy
By Steve Anderson
October 1st, 2016

Murder in the Dark

Murder in the Dark
Directed by Dagen Merrill
Written by Dagen Merrill, Chris "Doc" Wyatt
Starring Luke Arnold, Phil Austen, Simone Tang
87 mins

So we're back with the latest batch of After Dark's Eight Films to Die For, and we've already gotten off to a good start with a zombie apocalypse. Now, something a bit more mundane--though really, everything's more mundane than a zombie apocalypse when you get right down to it. This time, we're neck deep in Murder in the Dark, a movie that proves party games can have a way of going very wrong, very fast.

Murder in the Dark follows a group of young folks--these kinds of movies tend to, after all, because no one wants to watch a bunch of 40 year olds get chased and occasionally murdered--who have gotten together around a medieval Turkish castle to play a game of Murder in the Dark, which explains where we got the title. It doesn't take long for someone to take the title literally, and the survivors will have to figure out who did the killing and how to get out alive.

Perhaps the strangest thing about Murder in the Dark is that it's shot in what's called an "experimental shooting style," in which the actors aren't actually allowed to see the script. Instead, the filmmakers left clues out for the actors to follow and shot their resulting choices, which ended up shaping the film as a whole.

That sound you hear in your head right now is EVERY SINGLE METAPHORICAL ALARM BELL YOU HAVE GOING OFF AT ONCE. Seriously, the "Bad Movie Alarm" is clanging in the night like a 15-alarm fire siren on this one. While I'll admit it's a clever idea, and there's something to be said for clever ideas in a film industry where about the only way to get produced is to note how much like some other major money-maker the new project is, this kind of experiment has a lot of potential to go right off the rails like a train with wheels made of frozen butter.

Sadly, for the most part, that's what happens. About the first half of this movie is a disjointed wreck that's apparently going somewhere, but damned if I can tell where. This is like being dropped into Turkey blindfolded and without a map. I have not clue one where I am or where this is going. Of course, it does pick up a little bit about a half hour in once the "murder" part of a movie called Murder in the Dark actually hits. That by itself is actually kind of inexcusable; we spent almost the first half of this movie stumbling through the trackless wastes of a movie shot in an "experimental style" that went nowhere and took its sweet time about it.

The second half does pick up, significantly, but some unusual twists and turns aren't really enough to pull the movie out of the sludge pit it created, especially as it manages to jump in a totally new sludge pit of mutual recrimination, distrust, and infighting with its second half.

The ending takes a ninety-degree turn up into an almost-complete heap of nonsense that does at least manage to make some sense in retrospect. It's clearly been cobbled together out of whole cloth; in fact, it reminds me of that bit from Kung Pow: Enter the Fist where Mu Shu Fasa reveals that by "the answer you seek resides in the stars above," he meant "aliens." Well, yeah, okay, but there was almost nothing else here suggesting that aliens would be involved. There's an almost throwaway bit back in the early part that suggests we could go here--a line about how research needs troublemakers--but trying to tie that in to the craptacular we'll hit almost 70 minutes later is a leap of logic so profound it's jumped Springfield Gorge on a skateboard.

Special features are nonexistent. It's a safe bet they'll all be like this, but Fox has chosen to put absolutely nothing on these discs but the movie itself. Why, I'm not sure, but without so much as a subtitle, this minimalism is starting to get in the way.

All in all, Murder in the Dark is an overblown and underwhelming cinematic tire fire, so focused on its "experimental style" that it forgot to be entertaining. The Eight Films to Die For series has long had a pattern: most of its releases are good, but there's always one dog. In past installments, movies like The Hamiltons, Lake Dead, Dying Breed and Dread did the job. I'm hopeful that, this time around, I've found the dog and gotten it out of the way, and the rest of the series will be the quality lineup I've discovered over the years.