Film Review: In Darkness

This creepy London-set thriller places a blind pianist in peril after the suspicious death of a neighbor. Fans of the genre will appreciate the clever script and strong performances.
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Though blind since childhood, Sofia (Natalie Dormer) is fiercely independent, pursuing a successful career playing piano for orchestral film scores and living alone—very much alone, in fact. It appears that her only friend—if friend is the word—is the street musician for whom she regularly buys coffee and with whom she exchanges a few words. She's getting to know her upstairs neighbor, Veronique (Emily Ratajkowski)—they chat in the foyer about Veronique's heady perfume and Sofia agrees to perform at a benefit party for her ailing father—but Veronique isn't around for long. After a scuffle upstairs and a clatter of breaking glass, Veronique is found dead, apparently a suicide by defenestration. Then the complications kick in, and there are a lot of them.

Though In Darkness will inevitably be compared to Wait until Dark (1967), another film about an imperiled blind woman who proves less vulnerable than she appears, that film's strength is its relentless claustrophobia—the blind protagonist is terrorized in her own apartment. Sofia is menaced everywhere. To the credit of director and co-writer (with Dormer) Anthony Byrne, In Darkness is both tightly plotted—especially given how much is going on and how much backstory has to be carefully parceled out so as not to spoil the plot's twists and turns—and stylishly done.

It seems safe to assume that Byrne is an admirer of Italian Dario Argento's 1975 Profondo Rosso, given how often In Darkness echoes aspects of that film, from its aggressive use of highly stylized camera angles to the presence of lush, red-velvet curtains in Sofia's apartment. Fortunately, Byrne has a stronger sense of narrative than Argento, and from the film's opening shot (a close-up of a woman being strangled, which turns out to be an image from a thriller; Sofia is part of the orchestra performing the nerve-scraping score), he makes it clear that he's skillfully toying with the viewer's expectations. Byrne's use of sound is especially effective, particularly in the aggressive sound mix that mimics Sofia's heightened perception of noises that fade into the background when sight has center stage, and having the score of the opening scene's film-within-the-film become the soundtrack for In Darkness itself is a nicely meta touch.

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