SEAT AT THE BACK - SCRIBBLES! ~ Films on the Seat at the Back playlist right now: KIDS IN LOVE; JUNE; CURVE; WILD, BARELY LETHAL; GODDESS OF LOVE; THE VATICAN TAPES .. What a night in!

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

'Dark Touch' (2013) ~ Imagine if Carrie White had a much angrier, younger sister . . "A sympathetic whirlwind of sinister set pieces and psychokinetic frights!"

*They may be some plot spoilers traumatised by a scary girl's killer tantrum  below ~ watch before reading!*

DARK TOUCH follows a short time in the fairly awful life of young Niamh (Missy Keating) in a small rural village in the wildest heart of Ireland (this French/ Swedish/ Irish movie is supported by the Irish Film Board with location filming in Dublin).

We first meet Niamh after she has suffered a terrible accident - not the usual childhood injury: falling over on a pavement or tripping down the stairs or choking to death on a boiled sweet given to you by your half-drunk uncle. No, Niamh has just cut her own tongue off and turns up at the house next door in this alarming way. She's closely followed by her (eerily calm) parents who apologise to the kindly neighbours (a startled young couple; themselves eerily polite) for their child's crazed behaviour (and for bleeding all over the carpet in front of their own two watching, very likely traumatised for life, children).

Niamh is taken quickly away by her parents. The next door neighbours pop round some time later to ask how she is - and really should have called social services as soon as they left, because something's clearly not right in Niamh's house; her parents are acting all stilted and uncomfortable as their daughter looks after her bruised baby brother and rebuke the girl any time she starts to tell tales of possible 'darker stuff' going on. The neighbours do nothing and that night, back at Niamh's, as her parents enter her bedroom to wish her goodnight, the father unbuckling his belt in the process - it's pretty obvious who the strange figure lurking in the girl's bedroom wishing to do her harm at the start of the film probably was.

It's at this point that all hell breaks loose in Niamh's house. There is a freak-out of Stephen King Carrie-ish proportions with furniture spinning through the air, boards with nails sticking out from them suddenly flung towards parental heads and chandeliers crashing to the ground and spearing flesh with splintered glass. After the dust settles and the blood dries, Niamh finds out her baby brother also died in the 'freak accident' that nobody seems able to figure out the true cause of (he died while being 'protected' by big sister in a cupboard under the stairs as the psychic storm inside the house let rip).

The couple next door, perhaps feeling some shame they hadn't helped the little girl with the missing tongue out in the first place, take the wide-eyed and traumatised Niamh in to live with them until proper foster parents can be found - oh pity those two other poor children who live in that house now! The quite understandably sullen girl rarely speaks when at home, but does make a friend of a pregnant school councillor - Tanya (Charlotte Flyvholm) who she seems to like better than any other grown-ups around. In class all the other children are traumatised to have Niamh sitting among them and spread the rumour that she has done 'really bad things' to her own family.

Niamh spends the rest of the movie rescuing children in urgent need of being rescued from abusive parents and sending them off into the night like newly-sucked vampires while finding some kind of salvation in her revenge against adults who may have done her wrong (or maybe not - details of any abuse, and by whom, are mostly left ambiguous; although the general tone of the film seems to suggest implied abuse is real). 

At school, warming to her role as resident psycho-kid, Niamh manages to find a way to keep the other children from spreading all those nasty (but possibly true) rumours about her. It all leads to a cruel and depressing doubly fiery finale that mirrors the opening cleansing of Niamh's parental home at the start of the movie. There's only uncertain redemption to be found in the resulting carnage.

Dark Touch is an excellently unhinged and cruel gothic fairy tale from a director - Marina de Van - who specialises in the macabre and beautifully grotesque in films such as In My Skin, and Hop-'o-My-Thumb.

The story of Niamh is ambiguous and the abuse the girl has suffered is unclear (even whether it's from only her parents or others is uncertain). The girl's rebirth as both protector of the innocent (especially the two children freed in a fairy tale way to stalk the streetlamp-lit roads at night that is both visually stunning and sheerly poetic in execution) and also as dark destroyer of the 'bad' in society (basically all children who lead happier lives than she does and all adults - at least those who aren't pregnant) is chilling and incendiary film-making.

Many set pieces stand out, especially the opening maelstrom of psychokinetic unleashing - extra high praise here to cinematography by John Conroy and set direction from Cecilia Jalakas. The sight of household furniture and random appliances suddenly taking on a murderous life of their own in a spiral of chaos is impressive enough to rival anything seen in Disney's Sorcerer's Apprentice segment of  Fantasia with Mickey Mouse struggling to control suddenly wildly animated inanimate things - and failing! This opening sequence in Dark Touch is also incredibly bloody and fierce and doesn't hold back.
It's an angry opening blast that the movie, fortunately, is able to fully recover from and often nearly match in other moments of sheer terror: most hilariously (while still retaining the fear factor) is the invitation (repeated many times) by a mother to Niamh, to go to her own daughter's birthday party. The look on her daughter's face when told the news is an absolute joy and makes watching film so much fun to be a part of when in a crowded cinema (in this case, at the 2013 London FrightFest where the film was receiving its UK Premiere).

Subsequent shocks in Dark Touch include: melting dolls, an actual 'dark touch' on a pregnant tummy (that promises future pain and suffering or empowerment upon birth - or maybe just peace), a highly disturbing school lock-in, and the suggestion that Niamh not only has psychokinetic ability but also the power to hypnotise; almost zombify - taking the horror into areas where not even original cinematic mind-fuck girl, Carrie White, was able to tread.

Of course, Sissy Spacek as telekinetic teenager Carrie in Brian De Palma's 1976 movie of the same name (and that has similar themes to Dark Touch), was much older and better known than the young pre-teen star of this movie - played by Missy Keating, but the young actress is mesmerizingly evil in her movie debut here; holding the film together with delightfully sharp-edged stitching as revengeful, creepy-as-a-coven, Niamh.
It's a classic 'bad girl' performance from Keating (the daughter of pop star dad, Ronan!) that reminds not just of a younger Carrie White but, perhaps better matched - the angrier younger sister of Fairuza Balk's already pretty damn angry Nancy in 1996's The Craft. Niamh fully earns her revenge in Dark Touch through such an unsettling portrayal of a girl full of years of trauma bubbling away in her young head and ready to explode for good.
Another interpretation of Niamh's character, is the possibility that it is the parents who fear their own daughter and have been trying to control her outbreaks of psychic meltdowns at home before succumbing to a full onslaught that ends up being blamed - eventually - on parental abuse. It's not dwelled upon, though the reason for Niamh's powers are never explained and the reason for her aggressive behaviour towards those who have done her no wrong, have little explanation either. In fact, one of the few ways to link the wild plot strands together is by blaming the girl as being the axis of all evils. The fact that abuse (as a factor in the chaos that descends later) can even be doubted at all, shunts the film into a greater, far worse place (perhaps deliberately so) than it already upsettingly wallows in and needs to worry us with.

Identification of abuse is no more necessary, perhaps, than it was with Stephen King's Carrie. This is a wild horror ride with a sympathetic whirlwind of sinister set pieces and psychokinetic frights. We feel bad for the girl, but there's no mercy to be shown to those who do care by Niamh, as for her it's simple: adults must be punished. But unlike films such as 'Children of the Corn' or 'Who Can Kill a Child?' - she also believes that other children should be punished too. In fittingly gruesome ways. That's a chilling premise for any movie to deal with.

The children of Dark Touch are the real stars of this movie, and there's intentionally little identification with the grown-up cast. The young cast includes enigmatic Art Parkinson as Peter (he's also Rickon Stark in TV's Game of Thrones and has a couple of expectation-rousing genre films on the near horizon too: Noel Clarke's sci-fi 'The Anomaly' and Vlad-centric 'Dracula Untold') and Anabel Sweeney, who stars as Anne (and in a few months will be back on cinema screens in the Domhnall and Brendan (father and son!) Gleeson-starring 'Calvary'.

Anabel Sweeney tells of her experiences working on Dark Touch for the ITW (Independent Theatre Workshop) website: "The movie was filmed in two separate locations, Dublin and Gothenburg, Sweden. There was a lot of early start-ups at 8 am in the morning and occasional late finishing at 11pm but I did not mind at all as I was so excited by the amazing opportunity. I could not wait to get on set and start rolling. Filming [included] walking through fields late at night pretending to be hypnotised. In one scene dolls had to be set on fire which was scary, but so cool! All children were advised about fire safety hazards and we had to maintain a distance from the fire in order to be safe. I had to scream, cry and walk towards the fire in a hypnotised state. At the end of the day I practically lost my voice from screaming so much!"

Dark Touch is a sizzling refresher of a horror movie with dark and chilling eye-popping candy cruelties galore - it makes the horror genre a fun and guilty thing to enjoy when you actually start to relish every single one of those dark touches in action. The new Carrie White (from the Chloe Grace Moretz-starring remake coming soon) - should already be watching her back.


Words: Mark Gordon Palmer

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