Natalie Dormer plays a blind woman who becomes involved in a murder in this thriller she co-scripted with director Anthony Byrne.
Thrillers featuring blind women in peril have long been a genre staple, with examples including Wait Until Dark, See No Evil and Blink, among others. Actress Natalie Dormer has crafted an effectively similar vehicle for herself in the film she’s co-scripted with director Anthony Byrne. Featuring a strong performance by the veteran of Game of Thrones and The Tudors as the blind “witness” to a possible murder who proves far less vulnerable than she initially seems, In Darkness proves a diverting suspenser that should be particularly popular in home-viewing formats.
Dormer plays Sofia, a blind, or at least visually impaired (she can make out shapes), pianist who, in one of the movie’s slyer moments, is initially seen playing with an orchestra in a recording session for a suspense film score. Sofia has a friendly but casual relationship with her beautiful upstairs neighbor Veronique (paparazzi favorite Emily Ratajkowski), who she can always recognize by her distinctive perfume.
One night, Sofia hears a struggle in Veronique’s apartment, followed by her neighbor’s fall to her death from the window above. The ensuing extensive media coverage reveals that Veronique’s father is a Serbian businessman (Jan Bijvoet) accused of war crimes.
A rumpled detective (Neil Maskell) comes calling on Sofia in the hope that despite her condition she’ll be able to provide clues about the murderer. He also asks the perennial question addressed to blind people: Has the loss of their sight sharpened their other senses?
The possible killer, Marc (Ed Skrein, who attempted to fill Jason Statham’s shoes in the Transporter franchise), strikes up a friendly and ultimately romantic relationship with Sofia. He hopes to find out what she’s told the police and whether she knows the whereabouts of a USB flash drive that serves as the film’s MacGuffin. His criminal cohort is his sister Alex (Joely Richardson), who demonstrates a ruthlessness that surpasses his.
The film infuses its fairly generic storyline with some audacious stylistic devices, such as a sequence intercutting the ritual religious washing of Veronique’s corpse with images of Sofia showering, the latter complete with gratuitous nudity. Sofia’s visual impairment is also subtly reflected in the film’s heightened sound design and such scenes as when she’s attacked by a gang of toughs and all we see are violently moving shadows on a wall. Director Byrne reveals his flair for staging violent mayhem in an elaborately choreographed kidnapping sequence.
In Darkness ultimately tries too hard to provide twists with a series of revelations — about Sofia and her real motivations, in particular — that feel more grafted on than organic. But before the film succumbs to those overindulgences, it’s a reasonably taut, effective thriller that benefits greatly from Dormer’s strong performance as the beleaguered heroine. Richardson also makes a valuable contribution with an entertaining turn in which she seems to be having a fine time. When her villainous character is informed by her brother that the witness to the murder is in fact blind, the actress’ cackling laughter in response seems to be squarely directed at the film’s over-the-top plot contrivances.
Production company: 42
Distributor: Vertical Entertainment
Cast: Natalie Dormer, Ed Skrein, Joely Richardson, Emily Ratajkowski, Jan Bijvoet, Neil Maskell, James Cosmo
Director: Anthony Byrne
Screenwriters: Anthony Byrne, Natalie Dormer
Producers: Anthony Byrne, Natalie Dormer, Ben Pugh, Adam Morane-Griffiths, Josh Varney
Executive producers: Rory Aitken, Joshua Horsfield
Director of photography: Si Bell
Production designer: Sonja Klaus
Editors: Tom-Harrison Reed, Paul Knight
Composer: Niall Byrne
Costume designer: Nat Turner
Casting: Kharmel Cochrane