Dark Encounter Movie Review
Written by Ren Zelen
Released by Signature Entertainment
Written and directed by Carl Strathie
2019, 97 minutes, Not Yet Rated
Frightfest International Premiere on 23rd August 2019
Laura Fraser as Olivia
Mel Raido as Ray
Sid Phoenix as Billy
Grant Masters as Kenneth
Spike White as Noah
Dark Encounter is the new sci-fi thriller from the team that bought you Solis, Carl Strathie’s directorial debut.
While Solis was a Gravity-style film which concerned one astronaut’s plight as his damaged spacecraft heads into the heart of the sun, Dark Encounter takes place in a 1980s Pennsylvania and concerns the trauma a family suffer when they return from a visit to town to find that their 8-year-old child Masie has vanished from their house.
We take up the story a year after the mysterious disappearance, no body nor any sign of the missing child has ever been found. Masie’s grieving extended family return home from a memorial service in their small town. Her school and community have all but given up hope and decide that the holding a service may help the family to find closure.
Later that night, family tensions arise during dinner when the girl’s father Ray (Mel Raido) becomes aggressive towards unmarried and childless brother Billy (Sid Phoenix). Particularly distraught is the missing girl’s uncle Kenneth (Grant Masters), who is a local policeman. He expresses his sorrow at his failure to discover any clues as to his niece’s disappearance and being unable to give the family any hope of finding out what happened to her. Older sister Arlene (Alice Lowe) offers the girl’s mother Olivia (Laura Fraser) comfort and support.
Unsurprisingly, the missing girl’s parents, Ray and Olivia, are having a particularly rocky time and their marriage is coming under stress. The family conflict is also taking its toll on Masie’s brother, Noah (Spike White).
The family remain together but as the evening draws on, strange lights appear in the nearby forest. Assuming it to be a prank by troublesome local lads, the men, Ray, Kenneth and Morgan (Vincent Regan) venture into the dark woods to warn them off, leaving Billy with Noah back at the house with the two women.
It soon becomes evident that the strange lights are nothing to do with local troublemakers but emanate from an unknown source. The lights have the effect of making Morgan disappear and of placing Kenneth into a hysterical terror.
Meanwhile, Billy and the women left at home are exposed to an inexplicably strange phenomenon that shakes them to the core. The origin of the lights appears to be visitors from another world that are seemingly abducting members of the family. However, what might be their reasons for doing so, and what is the actual intention of their visits?
As the film unfolds, we learn that neither the visitors nor the purpose of their visit is quite what they might seem to be and are linked to Maisie’s story in a way no-one initially suspects.
After its heyday with Spielberg’s benevolent Close Encounters of the Third Kind, the sci-fi genre of alien abduction quickly descended to become the stuff of schlock horror or of cod-documentary chillers such as The Fourth Kind. With Dark Encounter, director/writer Strathie certainly deserves credit for bringing a fresh twist to the alien abduction story and combining it with a ‘hunt for a missing child’ crime drama in a surprising way.
The film’s premise offers an unusual fusion of sci-fi, crime story and family drama. It draws us in by outlining the tragic situation of a family disintegrating in the wake of a trauma but wastes no time in presenting the extraordinary events which overtake them.
The performances from the ensemble cast are solid and the special effects are impressively intriguing – Strathie has a good eye for an image – a silhouette against blinding light, the reflection of something in a person’s eyes as they gaze on something extraordinary and inexplicable – but he is sometimes tempted to linger to the point of melodrama.
Dark Encounter may ultimately seem a to be a bit preposterous, but it still proves to be an entertaining and sufficiently creepy thriller, sometimes more interested in the emotional effects of a family’s need to unite in the face of danger perceived or secrets revealed than in the details regarding aliens and spaceships. Overall, it’s a noteworthy addition to a genre that evidently still has some life left in it.
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