Written by Elias and directed by Nick Basile, Dark is a film about madness, fear, and the uncertainty of New York City plunged into darkness during the biggest blackout in history. After I finished Dark, I had some questions. I imagine most people would, but – being in the unique position to ask them – I figured I’d do just that. Their answers and insights did not disappoint.
RavMon: To get started – how did this film come about?
Nick: I originally thought of the concept for this story back in the winter of 2011. I had, at the time, spent a few years developing a couple of other projects, both of which never got off the ground. I was feeling very down and had gone through some personal heartache that year as well. I decided that the only way to lift myself back out of this depressed state was to come up with a project that could be done independently, very tight in concept and wouldn’t require a lot of locations or characters. I also felt that I should embrace the feelings I was having at the time which were very dark, very pessimistic, and utilize that in the film. My main motivation with Dark was to express what I was feeling and get it out of me and onto the screen and share it with people and hopefully, through the process of making the film, would perhaps find some catharsis.
RavMon: And why this particular story, set during that particular event?
Nick: The idea of the 2003 blackout seemed like an interesting backdrop that was also metaphorically appropriate. It would not only serve as a catalyst for the main character in the story but also allow this fictional tale to feel more authentic because it was a real event that happened. It gives an audience a real sense of a place and time. It also opens up the movie so it feels larger. The blackout is always happening around her even though the movie is really about a character stuck in her own head. A character’s internal struggle that is heightened by a large event, which is out of their control as they are swept up, is interesting to me. Taking out the lights and power, especially in a city like New York, does bring society back to a primal state and that can be scary. There is no more everyday noise to drown out the thoughts and voices in Kate’s head. I ended up calling Elias and asked if he wanted to work with me on the story and then write the screenplay for me.
Elias: We always make a lot of those [calls] to each other, but this one had higher stakes than usual. I think he hooked me on the project in the first 5 minutes. A few more late-night phone chats and we had arrived at the story, and I started writing. Outside of the initial inspirations, much of the emotional struggle of the main character Kate is ripped from my own life and experiences when I lived in New York.
RavMon: I said in my review that, for me, this movie felt very much like a “sister” film to Gut, in the sense that it was a story about being a woman in some of the same ways Gut is about being a man. Was that your intention at all?
Elias: That’s interesting. I don’t think it was entirely intentional, but I totally get how it could be seen as something of a sister film to Gut. Sometimes I really find that I understand better what I was trying to do with a story after the film’s completed or while we’re in the editing room. I think we put things in stories that, while not always conscious choices, are nonetheless very personal and were probably very relevant to us at the time.
RavMon: It’s definitely a film with heart – it seems like a lot of personal experiences came in from everyone involved?
Elias: When I wrote Dark I was a stay-at-home parent with an under-a-year-old baby beside me most of the time. I was frequently alone with my daughter back then as my wife worked very long hours. There was a sense of isolation and solitude that I think crept into that story in a very real way, which was probably due somewhat to those circumstances, though as I said it may not have been a conscious choice at the time.
Nick: For me, everything came from a place of character psychology. Kate being a woman, alone in the blackout and in her particular state of mind, adds another level of vulnerability to the situation. Obviously and unfortunately, there are additional fears a woman has in those situations that a man wouldn’t necessarily fear. That is inherent in the character in the situation. I also worked very closely with Whitney and we developed Kate’s character even further than what was on the page alone. Whitney, herself was living in NYC in 2003 when that blackout happened and she would share personal stories with me. Experiences she had would influence us to build on the situations in the script and layer it with more personal detail that came from an authentic place. When you work with a very instinctual actress such at Whitney, it’s a gift for a director because it allows for the character to really lift off the page and become a fully formed, living, breathing person on screen.
RavMon: That would be Whitney Able, the lead actress for Dark. Let’s talk a second about her. What was casting like?
Nick: I had seen Whitney in Gareth Edward’s film Monsters while we were in development on Dark. Besides her being a very talented actress and a perfect fit look-wise for the character in my mind, I also felt she had a presence on screen which really brings you in as a viewer. There is no artifice to her performance. Whitney was my first and only choice for Kate and as you aptly point out, we knew this film would completely sink or swim depending on the actress we cast in the leading role. So, I asked the Casting Director to make an offer to her agent and Whitney and I had a meeting for the first time over Skype. We were very lucky to get her onboard.
RavMon: And what was it like working with her?
Elias: She related very strongly to the character and her commitment was die-hard from the start. It’s really nice when you can connect with an actor who shares the same passion and commitment about a project as you do.
Nick: It was a very difficult role emotionally, and also the whole film is told through her perspective. She spends a lot of screen time alone and without a lot of dialogue, so we knew we needed an actress who was talented enough, charismatic enough and would also be game for a lot of the physical and emotional turmoil the character goes through. The character is both physically and emotionally exposed and it takes an enormous amount of bravery for an actress to tackle that. Whitney is probably one of the bravest actresses I’ve ever met. She allows the audience to share her vulnerability and goes through a very gradual transition or mental descent which, as an actress, she makes look easy but requires immense talent and skill. The camera sees everything in a person’s face and eyes and with Whitney’s performance there is never a false moment in my opinion. We had a great time working together on this and I hope to work with her again in the near future. We’ve become friends.
RavMon: Okay, this is a bit of a spoiler, but it’s driving me crazy so I have to ask – can we get a Word of God confirmation on what happened to Benny?
Elias: Benny is a character that’s very near and dear to me. He ends up vanishing in a way between scenes, but that was intended to underscore Kate’s steadily slipping grasp on reality as we draw closer to the end of the film.
Nick: Ah… what happened to Benoit? A lot of people ask that. All I can say is everything in the film is intentional. I knew his sudden disappearance would be jarring to the audience. I have my own personal opinion on it but I’m not gonna share it here. Otherwise it would spoil the experience for people who are game enough to analyze it. There are subtle clues. The one clue I will remind people is that the whole film is told from Kate’s perspective. The audience experiences the night the way Kate does, but Kate’s perspective is not a reliable one. Her version of the truth may be incorrect.
RavMon: You realize I’m going to have to rewatch it again now? Oh well! So, shifting gears: Joe Dante is an executive producer of the film. How did that come to pass?
Nick: Well this film was originally set up at another, pretty well-known company before Joe came onboard. We were with this company for a year and had originally planned to shoot it in the summer of 2012. A lot of pre-production work had been done when suddenly the money fell through, which, unfortunately, is not an uncommon occurrence in the world of independent film where everything is tenuous. We ended up parting ways with that company and the whole project went into turn around. After taking a year to shop it to over eighty-five companies we brought it to Joe Dante’s company, Renfield Productions. I think he liked the simple and straight-forward concept of the film, it would be achievable on a low budget. He also thought it was a unique idea to set a “locked-door” thriller during the real-life 2003 blackout in New York City. He had also seen Whitney in Monsters and liked her work in that as well.
RavMon: What’s it been like working with him?
Elias: Joe is amazing and a huge talent in his own right. He’s been an inspiration to both Nick and myself since we were kids. His assistant Mark pitched him the idea and he very graciously came on board to help us put the project together. After our first cut we screened the movie for him and he gave us some great notes that helped tremendously in reaching our final version of the film.
Nick: Joe, like many other great directors of his generation, started his career working for Roger Corman. His first solo directing job, as many fans know, was the movie Piranha (1978) which was produced by Corman. Now that Joe is the respected Jedi Master, if you will, I think he is interested in helping filmmakers, like myself, get their first movie made; if he likes the idea and vision behind it. Also, if it can be cleverly pulled off with the limited resources available.
RavMon: Were you nervous?
Nick: When I screened my first rough cut of the film for Joe at his screening room, I was a little nervous, wondering what his reaction would be. But Joe, not only being a great director but also having started out cutting trailers for Corman, was very supportive and gave great editing notes. He really appreciated and understood the type of personal film I was trying to make disguised in a genre motif. He has continued to be very supportive through the whole process while also allowing me to find my own voice as a director.
RavMon: Well, that sounds awesome all around – and it looks like it’s paying off. Let’s talk for a second about the festival circuit. What kind of reviews and critical response has Dark been getting?
Elias: Critically the response has been overwhelmingly positive and truly humbling. It’s been really wonderful to see Whitney reaping such praise for her performance as well.
Nick: The response from critics has been very positive. Including your review, I’m happy to see critics experiencing the film the way I had hoped. There is, though, another element to the audience who may come to the picture with certain expectations and when the film doesn’t deliver to those expectations may find themselves disappointed. […] I think the picture can be polarizing in that way. The people who relate to it and connect to the film seem to really love it. Those who don’t want to accept what the film is trying to do really seem to be angry. I think that’s the nature of the audience today. It’s love or hate. Everything is extremes.
RavMon: And finally, because I always ask – what’s one thing you wish someone would ask you, but they never do?
Nick: Hmm… That’s an interesting question. The one thing I would ask or encourage, would be for people, when they watch a film like Dark, not to just watch a film for its story or plot but also for its style and how the filmmaker is telling the story. […] As a filmmaker, I want to put the audience through an emotional journey. I don’t enjoy a film when everything is spelled out literally. I like being an active participant, not a passive viewer. I like mystery, especially unsolved ones that leave you, the viewer, to think about it a day or two after.
Elias: That’s a good question. I really don’t know. Maybe what I had for breakfast? Although I actually skipped breakfast today and went straight for lunch: vegetarian chili accompanied by an episode of “Phineas and Ferb” and my daughter, a pretty kick-ass combo as it turned out.
What more can you ask for, really? Thanks again, guys, for your time – and I look forward to seeing what the next collaboration might have in store!
Dark was released on June 7th. It’s now available on DVD and On Demand. You can also pick it up on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Dark-Whitney-Able/dp/B01GIYFCEU or get more information on the official site: http://www.darkthefilm.com/#synopsis