Thomas Jane’s 2009 directorial debut “Dark Country” is a seriously tough nut to crack. Not because the film is a complex masterwork of plot and characterization, mind you, but because I honestly can’t decide whether or not it’s worth recommending. On one hand, the picture is an enjoyably dark and twisty supernatural noir flick, a stylish nod to films nobody seems to make anymore. However, on the other hand, “Dark Country” might be a little too slow and predictable for some modern-day moviegoers to genuinely appreciate. And while I walked away from Jane’s intriguing endeavor feeling mildly satisfied, I’m still not sure if I liked it.
That’s not to say that Jane isn’t a skilled director. In fact, I found “Dark Country’s” visual presentation to be quite impressive despite the shortcomings of its computer-generated imagery. The handful of problems I encountered during this frequently maddening excursion are entirely from a narrative standpoint. Structurally speaking, the film isn’t too far removed from the likes of “The Outer Limits” and the original incarnation of “The Twilight Zone”, though this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The issues that arise have more to do with the predictability of the plot. As soon as Dick (Jane) and Gina (Lauren German) begin bantering back and forth with the mysterious stranger in the backseat of their car, I knew precisely where this cinematic adventure was headed.
“Dark Country” concerns itself with the plight of the aforementioned protagonists, newlyweds Dick and Gina. Although their individual histories are unclear, it’s pretty safe to say that both parties have seen their share of heartache and pain. Sadly, the magic of their ill-fated marriage quickly wears off, a fact which becomes painfully evident after Dick makes a series of increasingly perilous wrong turns. Their misguided journey eventually leads them to the scene of a horrific car accident, an event which has seriously disfigured the driver. Since cell phone service in the desert isn’t what you’d call reliable, the couple are forced to load the blood-soaked man into the backseat of their car.
Big mistake. Almost instantly, the guy with the impossibly mangled face starts causing trouble. When he isn’t babbling incoherently to no one in particular, he’s outright belligerent, not to mention downright rude to his would-be rescuers. As tensions quickly rise, the injured man suddenly begins choking Dick with a seatbelt, causing the car to violently swerve onto the shoulder. A scuffle quickly ensues, though the fight is soon defused thanks to some well-placed blunt force trauma to the stranger’s skull. Gina is understandably horrified by her husband’s homicidal ways, but she’s not above helping Dick bury the bastard in the middle of absolutely nowhere.
From this point, things tend to get a little bizarre, and its here that “Dark Country” started to lose its hold on me. Figuring out where the plot is headed isn’t difficult, especially if you’ve seen this type of motion picture in the past. Thomas Jane and Lauren German are essentially the glue that holds the story together, and even they can’t keep this train from derailing during the film’s overwhelmingly limp finale. I suppose repeat viewings would held iron out some of the loose ends, but truth be told, I don’t think that’s going to happen for quite some time. Even at a mere 88 minutes, the picture feels too long. Trim this thing down to 50 minutes and you’ve have one hell of a short film.
All in all, “Dark Country” is a strong debut for Jane, and I’m definitely curious to see where he’s headed as a director. Unfortunately, the movie is a little clunky and unforgivably cliche, both in terms of story and presentation. As someone who grew up watching “The Outer Limits” and “Tales from the Dark Side”, I can certainly appreciate what the picture was trying to accomplish. However, when the audience can figure out where your story is headed before all of the proper elements have been introduced, something is seriously wrong with your storytelling abilities. Enjoyable and fun to watch, yet oddly incomplete, “Dark Country” will have its fans, though I’m not still entirely sure if I’m one of them.
Thomas Jane (director) / Tub Murphy (screenwriter)
CAST: Thomas Jane … Dick
Lauren German … Gina
Ron Perlman … Deputy Thompson
Chris Browning … Stranger