From Black REVIEW – Excellent Performances, Dull Story

A film is only as good as its story.

From Black
From Black

Thomas Marchese’s From Black is a pretty bland experience, and even commits the cardinal sin of being dull occasionally. The plot concerns Cora (Anna Camp), a recovering junkie whose son has been missing and presumed dead for a couple of years. After nodding off on her couch one afternoon, her kid walks out the door, and is never seen again.

Enter Abel (John Ales), a man who leads a local grief counseling group. He claims to know a way to bring Cora’s son back. Naturally skeptical at first, Cora finally agrees, and they retreat to her deceased mother’s house to perform an occult ritual. Interesting enough, I suppose, but the premise was done with much more skill in A Dark Song, and with far more emotional impact. From Black gives us the misery and bleakness we get in that film, without any sense of redemption, or even closure.

Despite their characters being fairly generic, Camp and Ales, who have to carry much of the movie between the two of them, are fascinating to watch. They dig deep into their characters to pull whatever psychological depth the script lacks and try to dredge some emotion to the surface. Camp, especially, excels at emotional nuance. Panic, fear, and anger are all expressed very genuinely and convincingly through her performance. There are moments between the two actors, such as a conversation the two of them have at a bowling alley, that are a pure joy to watch. The dialogue they’re speaking might be cliché and tonally flat, but their performances truly transcend the material.

From Black has a nice minimalist soundtrack by Luigi Janssen, whose score almost makes the predictable story scary. And while the indoor photography sometimes leaves something to be desired, Duncan Cole’s outdoor photography can be truly mesmerizing at times.

There’s also a dream sequence that bears mentioning. Expertly directed, it really puts you inside Cora’s mind as she wanders the labyrinth of her guilt. In a movie that’s mostly uninspired, this scene almost belongs in another movie.

The fact that there’s so much obvious skill on display here just goes to show how important it is to have an engaging story at the center of your narrative film, because we don’t watch this stuff in isolation.

As mentioned, From Black shares a lot of plot points with the far superior A Dark Song. Both take place in an abandoned house, both have a male guru type leading a scared woman through a ritual to resurrect something. And both deal with grieving and the loss of a child. Is this a ripoff? It’s hard to say, as the elements are common enough horror tropes. But the similarities do invite unfavorable comparisons between the two movies.

There’s just nothing seriously unique about the plot that we haven’t seen done better before. The desperate, grieving mother, and messing with forces that the characters should have stayed away from – it’s all so predictable. Add that to a plodding pace, and we get a film that really isn’t worth watching.

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From Black
From Black has a lot going for it. Unfortunately, the story and pacing make it a slog to get through.