MURDER IN THE DARK is the final film of this years 8 Films to Die For lineup that I watched. Overall, this year’s offerings were a strong, well-acted, fun bunch of films, and I enjoyed almost all of them. (I didn’t care for WIND WALKERS at all. I never wrote a review on it because I stopped watching it about thirty minutes in). MURDER IN THE DARK is a tough film to categorize. It has elements of a slasher flick, elements of a mystery, elements of a thriller, and even elements of a psychological thriller. This film also boasts that it was a bit experimental in the way it was filmed. Much of the dialogue was ad-libbed, and if you watch the end credits, the director, Dagen Merrill, explains that each actor didn’t know how the entire story was going to unfold. The actors were given parameters they were to stay within as far as what their characters could/would do and say. Think of MURDER IN THE DARK as a play that is being written as it unfolds.
We get a multi-cultural cast of tourists as they travel the countryside in Turkey. There’s Ajay (Samrat Chakrabarti), a medical researcher; Ajay’s sister Lilly (Kiran Deol); Luca (Yann Bean), who is from France; Jessica (Murielle Zuker), Luca’s girlfriend; Simone (Simone Tang), a Dutch girl; Solo (Eme Ikwuakor), Simone’s boyfriend; and Matthew (Phil Austin) and Taylor (Mary Kate Wiles), a father and daughter traveling together. The group winds up at the ruins of a medieval Turkish town where they decide to camp for a day or two. That night they play a game of “murder in the dark,” and the next morning one of the group members has apparently taken the game too seriously. One by one, the tourists are murdered. Suspicion immediately falls on Kevin (Luke Arnold), a hitchhiker they picked up on the way to the ruins. Being in the middle of nowhere, no one gets cell reception, and the killer sabotaged their vehicle. So the group is left stranded at the ruins, and it isn’t long before suspicions and accusations start flying.
The casting in MURDER IN THE DARK is fantastic. The entire cast is strong and they each pull off their roles beautifully. This film could have easily fallen into the standard “no one trusts no one” situation, but the writing here strives for more. Whoever the killer is, he/she seems to be removing various organs. Is it for kicks? For an illegal black market ring? The scars left behind on the bodies are so precise that you’d think that would narrow down who the killer is. Nope. It seems everyone in the group has some kind of medical training and background. As the mystery unfolds and becomes more intense, part of the fun here is trying to figure out who the killer is.
Besides the acting, the scenery is breathtaking. Although the film takes place in Turkey, it was filmed in Italy, and director Merrill makes great use of the location. The beauty of the landscape around them is offset by how isolated they are. It is kind of like trying to admire a sword as it is impaling you!!
The gimmick of the plot and dialogue being ad-libbed isn’t, I must admit, completely successful. There are some gaps in the plot that would have benefitted from a more traditional narrative. I appreciate what Merrill and co-writer Chris Wyatt are doing here, but I found myself wishing the gimmick would end. This has a strong base story and a strong cast, and the film was only hurt by the undying commitment to the ‘experimental style of filming.’ This isn’t to say that MURDER IN THE DARK isn’t enjoyable. It is. I had a lot of fun with it. But there were definitely glaring weak spots that could have been adverted with a more traditional narrative.
So marks the end of the 2015 8 Films to Die For lineup. This was the strongest year yet from After Dark and I’m really looking forward to seeing what the have to offer in 2016. MURDER IN THE DARK may not be the strongest film in the lineup, but I think you’ll enjoy the mashup of several various genres, the scenery, and the acting. The ending wasn’t completely successful, but I thought it brought everything together nicely. Check this one out.
Director: Dagen Merrill (& co-writer with Chris Wyatt)
Plot: 3 out of 5 stars
Gore: 4.5 out of 10 skulls
Zombie Mayhem: 0 out of 5 brains
Reviewed by Scott Shoyer