By: Carl Lyon
Heartache is, without a doubt, one of the strongest emotions of the human psyche. Everyone knows the pain of losing a family member, friend, or lover to some degree, so media that can successfully portray this sense of loss hits a deeper chord with the viewer/reader/listerner, giving them a deeper appreciation of the pain that the fictitious characters are experiencing.
That, ladies and gentlemen, is why emo records are so successful.
I kid, of course (if only a little). This empathy is part of why Dark Remains, the latest film from Brian Avenet-Bradley (Freez'er, Ghost of the Needle), hits such a deep note with the viewer. True, there's a nasty little ghost story happening at the same time, but it's the overwhelming sense of loss that the characters experience that makes the film truly remarkable.
The Pikes, Allen and Julie, have it all: a happy marriage, a spacious home, successful careers (he's a technical writer, she's a fine-art photographer), and a beautiful daughter. All of that changes one horrific night when a prowler sneaks undetected into their home and brutally murders the child in her bed, leaving them with nothing but anguish and questions.
Seeking to clear their heads and coax along the long healing process, Allen rents a cabin in the mountains for them to escape from the bustle of the city and the memories that still live in their home. Unfortunately, their past follows them out to the wilderness, as Julie's attempts at getting back into her photography reveal not mere still-life pieces, but visions of their daughter hiding in the shadows of the cabin and the nearby abandoned prison. Oblivious to the images of his child in the photographs, Allen tries to block off the prison from his wife, but it's too little, too late. Obsessed with finding a connection to her lost child, as well as driven by the restless spirits of the mountain, Julie pushes madly on, barely acknowledging Allen's growing concern, even as he discovers the dark secrets of their cabin and the entire mountainside, a history of tragedy and suicide which they may not be able to escape.
As a pure ghost story, Dark Remains is a roaring success. The Pikes' cabin is practically a convention center for the restless dead, which they are dangerously unaware of, at least until the film's throat-clutching climax. There are plenty of genuine jump-out-of-your-skin scares, all of which are made even more effective by Avenet-Bradley's clever use of angling and character placement to make the ghosts seemingly appear out of thin air without any sort of post-production magic. That, coupled with the spooks' rather unassuming appearances (they look dead without being overly grotesque) makes for a genuinely creepy atmosphere.
Not that Dark Remains is without its flaws. Sadly, the character of Allen comes across as less a supportive husband and more of a demanding control freak, taking a bit of the viewers' sympathy towards him. A few odd plot holes tend to emerge on occasion, such as a suicide victim's gun being inexplicably found by Allen in a bucket of oil (um, shouldn't that be in a police evidence locker somewhere?), and the final explanation of just why there's such a history of tragedy on the area, while certainly quite original, comes across as a problem that's a little too easy to fix.
The DVD release of this oddly involving little gem is certainly no slouch in its presentation. The movie itself looks quite clean, with solid colors and none of the artifacts that can plague the shadows in low-budget films like this. Audio is a sparing 5.1 mix, with levels sounding just about right and a subtle use of surround channels that give it an edge without going over the top with the rear channels. Extras include a full-length commentary from Avenet-Bradley, a handful of deleted scenes, a behind-the-scenes featurette, and a truly fascinating documentary titled Big Red: The Ghost of Floyd County Prison, a revealing look at the ghost that allegedly haunts the prison that the crew shot key scenes of the movie in.
All in all, this is another fantastic film from the indie master that is Brian Avenet-Bradley. While certainly more accessible than some of his previous works, it is no less a success, giving the ghost story a pleasing shot in the arm in its deep emotional content. Highly recommended!