90 min., 2013
Written by Marina De Van
Directed by Marina De Van
My rating: ★★★
A study on the effects of child abuse, plus some telekinetic “Bad Touch” along for the ride.
* * *
In the spirit of Forced Viewing I was assigned Dark Touch to watch and review. I knew nothing about it other than the title. From the title, I was expecting campy, comical horror. Probably awful but entertainingly so. Instead, Dark Touch is dark, serious, and flawed.
It starts with a young girl, Niamh (pronounced Neve), running out of her house, away from something—it is unclear what, although shelves are falling—through a dark forest, and being pulled into another house, screaming, by people who know her. Her parents, who seem ordinary enough, come to rescue her in a few minutes. As her parents take her home, a bowl falls off the table and breaks unbidden. Much of the strange activity is accompanied with a high-pitched squeal heard by the viewers and some (but not all) of the characters in the film.
This squeal, and the movement and general mayhem it causes, is revealed to be a telekinetic effect that occurs when the girl is scared. Much of this fear is implied to be of her parents, who are portrayed as ambiguously abusive (her physical abuse is not shown on camera). Her fear, and the associated squeal and telekinetic effects, rapidly increases in both duration and destructiveness, leading to destruction of her house and the (suitably gory) death of both of her parents.
Once this occurs, the film proceeds to its main theme, an examination of the effects this fear has on the young girl. She is temporarily taken in by the couple whose house she escaped previously, and supervised by a police officer and a school welfare officer assigned to her case. Her memories of abuse cause her to trigger at otherwise innocent things: a removed belt, help washing. These triggers are realistic and chilling. Less realistic is that when she gets fearful (or tearful), things start flying.
Unfortunately, the effectiveness of the film as social commentary is diminished by failures in acting and direction. Naimh, played sullen and sunk-eyed by Missy Keating, is largely passive throughout much of the film, and her fear is not entirely convincing, manifesting primarily as shrinking away from physical contact, icy stares and dull non-responsiveness. The photography is also problematic, suffering from shaky-cam and a distinct lack of exposure making scenes so dark it is difficult to make out what is happening. And the ending, in which Naimh and two other abused children role swap from the abused to the abusers, came off as more comical than dark or scary.
However, the biggest flaw in the film is that Naimh’s parents, before their untimely death, are played as ordinary people who happen to be child abusers. This is a valid artistic decision, but when combined Niamh’s telekinesis and the unwillingness to show abuse more directly obscure the main point of the film. Were her parents really abusive? Maybe a perverted ghost is following her around and her parents are innocent. Maybe the house really is out to get her; maybe her injuries are self-inflicted as well. Maybe she’s just crazy. Watching the film the first time I wasn’t totally sure what I was seeing, whether she was really abused, whether it was just Puck messing with things. Ironically, the film probably would have been more effective if the supernatural “Dark Touch” that gives the film its title were removed; what would be left would not admit alternate explanations of events and show the damage that resulted from Naimh’s abuse more effectively.
It is clear, both from interviews with the director Marina de Van and from the film itself, that child abuse is something that is near and personal to her, and that the purpose of the film is to show the effects that this abuse has on children, those near to them, and the adults that they will become. The film is intended to show this starkly. Unfortunately, due to its flaws it does not entirely succeed.
Dark Touch set in rural Ireland and shot in Ireland and Sweden, and written and directed by the French Marina de Van. It runs for 90 minutes and was released in 2013. It stars Missy Keating, Marcella Plunkett, Padraic Delaney, and Charlotte Flyvholm.Have You Read...?