‘Out of Darkness’ Review: Evil Stalks Our Ancestors In A Familiar Thriller

In 1972, “Deliverance” was unleashed upon a worldwide audience, taking hold of the box office and becoming a true cultural milestone packed with cinematic tropes still referenced today. In many ways, this disturbing thriller about four men on a canoeing trip through a remote section of wilderness as sadistic mountain men stalk them is regarded as one of the first takes on the concept of an evil waiting in the background, with notable entries following in the decades to come ranging from the likes of “The Last House on the Left” (released the same year) to landmarks “Friday the 13th” and “Predator” alongside more recent efforts “Eden Lake” and “It Comes at Night.“ Has the genre now reached a peak, or did this already occur long ago? Does a fresh take on such a premise await its turn in the spotlight? While “Out of Darkness” attempts something eyebrow-raising with several of its ingredients, the resulting soup has an odd taste, both admittedly unique but unavoidably, overwhelmingly bland in the way so much of it has already been done.

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That’s not to say there isn’t something creative, nor that didn’t try. Set 45,000 years ago (as we’re shown immediately); the action follows a group of what could be labeled early man as they attempt to find a new home in a particularly barren section of the planet following a presumably difficult journey across an unnamed body of water. Speaking in a language developed specifically for the film, it isn’t all that difficult to witness the dynamic between these individuals thanks to subtitles, and the film’s swift runtime contributes to the action, making its introduction quicker than expected when one of the groups is snatched by that predictable unseen presence; with the barren cinematography on full display throughout, it’s “Prey” by way of Robert Eggers, or perhaps a non-intergalactic “Pitch Black.“ 

Understandably, there’s hardly an uplifting moment at any point, contributing to the disconcerting tone and supported by Adam Janota Bzowski’s ominous score. Some decently graphic kills exist, and the cast does display an evenly-matched level of performances. However, Beyah (Safia Oakley-Green), as the film’s final girl, can rise slightly above, with horror and desperation punctuated by hoarse, desperate screams recalling Leonardo DiCaprio’s guttural howls in “The Revenant.” However, this does have the unintended effect of the remaining group starting the blend together as “Out of Darkness” progresses, with one or two every so often treating the audience to a pseudo-motivational quote or two presumably meant to come off as poignant but which quickly lose any impact by the third or fourth iteration. There’s even a twist in the creature revealed at the film’s climax, which could appear acceptable, confusing, or capable of producing a tremendous shrug. The jury remains out on this.

While the concept of trying to survive in a situation where something is doing what it can to prevent this from happening makes for a compelling concept, it’s also the sort of idea prior efforts from “The Thing” to 2020’s vastly underrated “Underwater” executed far better. The pace fits the story, but remove the time period along with the proprietary language, and the result is nothing we haven’t seen before. This trait couldn’t be any more challenging to ignore and stands firmly in the way of wanting to understand the group better or connecting with characters in a manner that every grand entry in the world of the slasher flick has been able to do with iconic ease; take, for example, group member Adem (Chuku Modu) and compare him to Scream’s Randy (Jamie Kennedy). It’s not hard to see the vast difference in the desire to see more between the two.

Director Andrew Cumming cut his teeth on the small screen previously, and with “Out of Darkness” his feature debut, there may be enough onscreen to warrant interest in whatever route he decides to pursue next; there’s no denying his ability to capture a setting and take a risk or two, but these few gold stars lose their shine in a fog of predictability. At the very least, Oakley-Green has enough presence to set up the potential for something equally captivating in better films, and while “Out of Darkness” is by no means bad, it’s far from the iconic status Cumming presumably hoped to achieve. [C]