THE STORY – About 45,000 years ago, a desperate band of early humans finds a new land to settle in. As they start to realize that something monstrous is hunting them down, they must confront a horrifying danger that they never could have imagined.
THE CAST – Safia Oakley-Green, Chuku Modu & Kit Young
THE TEAM – Andrew Cumming (Director) & Ruth Greenberg (Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 87 Minutes
Horror films have taken us everywhere. From cabins in the woods to spaceships to suburban homes and beyond. Characters in the horror genre have had to go up against evil everywhere. In Andrew Cumming’s “Out of Darkness,” that fight is taken back in time to 45,000 years ago. Set in the Stone Age, this survival horror film, written by Ruth Greenberg, follows a group of six people searching for a new land who are being hunted by a monster hiding in the shadows. The cycle of humans having to go to war against evil, taking shape so early on in our existence, emphasizes how horrors have always manifested around us. So, have we ever thought that maybe humans have been the problem all along?
Storytelling under the glow of firelight is an ancient tribal practice that has stood the test of time. So, it’s only fitting that a Palaeolithic story would begin this way, linking human traditions of the past to the present. In total darkness, six figures sit around a fire as one begins to tell the tale of a hero who ventured to a promised land to flourish and find peace. This hero is put to the test as he travels across a great sea, defying his elders to seek a new life. With him, he ventures on this journey with his son, Heron (Luna Mwezi), his mate, Ave (Iola Evans), his young brother, Geirr (Kit Young), one advising elder, Odal (Arno Lüning), and an outsider, Beyah (Safia Oakley-Green). They successfully and joyfully reach their destination, but the land they find turns out to be cursed with barren earth, harsh winds, and cold. Facing starvation and struggling to find shelter, they face death.
This story turns out not to be spun just for entertainment, but rather, it serves as a backstory to the film’s characters. It details their journey, but what is left out is what comes after. Despite initial struggles to survive, the hero of this tale, Adem (Chuku Modu), is insistent that they’re better off on this new land. However, as they try to hunt for food, it becomes clear that they’re the ones being hunted. When night falls, they become aware that they’re being stalked. There’s a monster creeping in, closer and closer. Each performance perfectly captures the fear and anger that consume the group as they look beyond the firelight only to see empty blackness. This fear not only fuels their fight but changes them and creates a division that might get them all killed.
Cumming’s debut feature does a lot in its small 87-minute package, especially in terms of its technical aspects. The sound work by Paul Davies is excellent at creating the feeling that the characters are being surrounded at all times. The wind’s echos through the hills sound as monstrous as Adam Janota Bzowski’s growling score. Evil seems to be everywhere with the explosive beats of drums and tribal tones, with orchestral crescendos to signify rising danger. A shadow darker than night itself rushes past the camera, surrounded by fog. Ben Fordesman’s aerial cinematography shows how massive this tundra is while disorienting angels and quick movements emphasize a deadly pursuit. Within the claustrophobic density of forests and exposing desolation of the land, the film’s pace does wane a bit, but the suspense built through the colliding forces of images and sounds keeps us engaged. Some gnarly makeup work elevates the stakes, while natural lighting of scenes through fire, aurora borealis, and lightning strikes allow the audience to somehow see beauty in the darkness while elevating that horror mood.
With the help of linguists and historians, “Out of Darkness” transports us back to the Stone Age. But while many would associate this time with primitive Neanderthals, the humans here are as recognizable as those in the modern day (and authentic, thanks to the historical research undertaken). While they have a wardrobe of furs and use archaic weapons like spears, they have their oral traditions, create art, and communicate like us (in a fictional language for the film). The film feels set much earlier than 45,000 years ago with the familiarity of the characters, but especially in the patriarchal system at play that causes the female characters’ anger to be fueled under its pressure.
Creating characters that are all too similar to us in their behavior speaks to the staticity of human nature, especially when our survival hangs in the balance. It turns out the real horror of the film isn’t the monster lurking in the dark – it’s the humans. They’re not really running from anything – the darkness lies within. It’s in the horrifying cycles of fear and violence. It’s in our actions run by prejudice. It’s in our desire to take and destroy. Bringing light into the darkness illuminates what’s truly lurking. In the case of “Out of Darkness,” it’s the reality that, despite this story being set so long ago, we haven’t changed.