Volume 91, Issue 81

Wednesday, March 4, 1998



Terror strikes in the dark

©Gazette File Photo
WE'LL NEED TO RUN SOME TESTS ON THOSE MEMORIES. Kiefer Sutherland, the limping and lisping Dr. Daniel Schreber, poses with his strange new friends, in Dark City.

By Lisa Weaver

Gazette Staff

A call-girl killer is on the loose, a man wakes up void of his memory, a group of ghostly men called the Strangers are in charge and the city is in perpetual darkness. These are only the basic elements of the refreshingly original film Dark City, by Alex Proyas, director of The Crow.

The actual plot of Dark City is extremely complex, filled with so many twists and turns in the first five minutes that even the most attentive viewer will be confused. The film is concerned with a world in which the Strangers are messing with the memories and identities of the city's human inhabitants. Conflict arises when the humans start to catch onto the dark plans and intervene. Despite the intricacy of the plot, which may be a complaint of moviegoers, all questions about the setting or motivation of characters are pretty neatly tied up at the end.

Dark City is a psychological thriller with a science fiction twist. All the viewer knows is what is presented on the screen, which is often all the characters themselves know. One starts to feel that everything is possible and nothing is for certain.

Rufus Sewell (Cold Comfort Farm) is John Murdoch, or so he thinks. Just as Murdoch is lost in his own identity, the viewer is also lost, not knowing which story to believe. Sewell's over-exaggerated facial expressions lend to the eerie and anxiety-producing feel of the film. In a similar vein, Kiefer Sutherland (Flatliners) alters his true demeanor to become Dr. Daniel Schreber, the aid to the Strangers. Even his limping gait and lisping voice come off as surprisingly authentic. Jennifer Connelly (Inventing the Abbotts) is perfectly seductive and terrifyingly confused in her role as Emma Murdoch, the wife of John. Rounding out the incredibly talented cast is William Hurt (Michael) as the determined Inspector Frank Bumstead.

The Strangers are quite similar in appearance to the evil Pinhead from Hellraiser, but the strength of their voices and the vagueness of their powers make them chillingly frightening. With names like Mr. Hand, Mr. Sleep and Mr. Wall, the terror they produce is not as much scary as it is nightmare-inducing.

As would be expected from the director of The Crow, Dark City is incredibly dark, in both subject and cinematography. Science fiction elements aside, the film could simply be a period piece set in the '40s. At times, the scenes are so black that the viewer is as much in the dark as the characters in the movie. The splashes of colour and bright light which appear in the film are then given special significance because they are in such contrast to the ever-present gloom.

The film is interesting because it can be interpreted on many different levels. It can be taken at face value as a really good horror/science fiction flick and the currently popular theme of the "conspiracy theory" is also prevalent throughout the film. The epistemological questions the film raises are not new, but curiously explored. For instance, how do we know what we know?

Dark City can also be interpreted as an allegory for our present day society, in which the media controls our information about the events of the present, past and future almost entirely. We only know what they present to us.

Dark City is sure to succeed where other horror films have failed. It terrifies by suggestion – rather than blatant chainsaws and hockey masks. Nothing is more horrifying than the unknown and the possibility that there are conspiracies in the works which the public at large unaware of. In a society filled with uncertainty of its future, the thought that we may not even be who we think we are is certainly less than comforting.

To Contact The Arts and Entertainment Department: gazent@julian.uwo.ca

Copyright © The Gazette 1998