Originally titled Steel Country when it made its way through the festival circuit, A Dark Place is the story of Donny (Andrew Scott), a sanitation worker, who becomes interested in the mysterious death of a young boy.
After learning that police deemed his death an accidental drowning, Donny is determined to solve it. After a conversation with the boy’s mother where she makes a remark about how her son wouldn’t wander off alone, Donny is certain there was foul play involved.
Director Simon Fellows brings out the curiosity in each character and reminds us of what can happen to our mindset if we never explore the world around us. Cinematographer Marcel Zyskind does an expert job of bringing the small town in Ohio to life through his dark and atmospheric shots that show the deep and seedy underbelly of decay.
He finds visually beautiful and striking imagery to establish the small, mid-American town we’re all familiar with. This collaboration makes the setting a living, breathing character throughout the film and one that adds dimension to the entire plot.
The film has moments where character-driven motivation is hard to find and leads to missed opportunities to educate its audience about prejudice when it comes to disability.
Andrew Scott plays Donny as a man who is socially awkward, consistently missing social cues and jokes, which is never addressed nor discussed in the film. He may be someone that falls somewhere on the autism spectrum but seems to be high-functioning, because of the situations he is put into. From missing a joke and taking it at its literal meaning to becoming extremely fixated on solving the young boy’s murder, we see the same behaviors displayed throughout the media of humans with disabilities.
These unanswered questions could lead to an audience questioning the characters mental health and detract from the actual storytelling. Due to his behavior not meeting society’s norms of how someone “should behave,” Donny quickly becomes the main focus and suspect. This is a trope that many, many films have used and a fresher take would have been to cast an actor on the autism spectrum to give the viewer a true account and lens to see the character of Donny through.
Scott is brilliant in his portrayal and keeps Donny grounded, real, and developed but with so many actors of varying backgrounds, identities, and life experience, I am left wondering how the story would have changed and grown with different casting.
The marriage between the unsettling tone of the movie and its small-town setting makes A Dark Place a masterpiece in how symbolism and subtly are a delicate art form.
Simon Fellows and Marcel Zyskind do this well when showing how the town is rotting from the inside out. Flies continually buzz around Donny as he goes from house to house collecting trash. Not only is the garbage rotting but the small town itself is too as it turns a blind eye to find the killer.
From the opening, it is quickly revealed that this film has something to say about the state of power in today’s America. Clean cut lawns with Trump/Pence signs along with closed down gas stations and warehouses that hang banners of the Presidential ticket as well let us know we are modern times. This is the America that felt underrepresented and ignored by the Obama administration. Where people lie and men abuse power to keep their power. Something that can be found not only in the fictitious town from the film but in many, many pockets of America today.
A Dark Place has so many points of view it wants to explore and messages it wants to deliver
But the lack of focus and clarity in the writing makes the film fall flat. While there are many great parts that can stand alone, the complete film isn’t truly a thriller. The resolution of the mystery and who kill the young boy is underwhelming and does not feel like the payoff the viewer deserves. Unfortunately, it reaches for tragic irony but doesn’t quite make it due to inconsistencies and underdevelop plot.
I have a preference for the more unknown movies that are release weekly. The indie film world is lively and inexhaustible. The sad thing is that there’s also a lot of crap to work through. And then you come across such a film as “ A dark place” (Original title “ Steel Country”).
It doesn’t have a subject that’ll blow you away or impress you the very first instance.
You expect the same, routinely story as told in countless other films. But as the film progress, I became more overwhelm and excite. And this because of (unknown to me) actor Andrew Scott. My sense of shame increase by the minute while I admire his acting performance. How the hell is it possible that I didn’t know this actor?
If you think that Dustin Hoffman is fabulous as Tom Cruise’s autistic brother in “ Rain Man”, I’m sure you’re going to appreciate Andrew Scott’s interpretation as the mentally retard Donald Devlin. Equivalent and Oscarworthy are two words that immediately come to my mind. A moving and at the same time inspiring character. At the same time, the film was also fascinating enough and the guesswork continue until the end.
Once and a while I write that a film is a must-see. This time it’s mandatory to watch this movie. And especially (I can’t emphasize it more) because of the actor Andrew Scott. Reward this guy with all sorts of prizes and hopefully, he’ll get offer other movies that reach a wider audience. In any case, I have view his filmography and will certainly view more work from his oeuvre.
PS. Don’t confuse this film with the movie that has the same name, starring Luke Baines.
Genre: Drama, Mystery & Suspense
Directed By: Simon Fellows
Stars: Andrew Scott, Denise Gough, Bronagh Waugh
Written By: Brendan Higgins
In Theaters: Apr 12, 2019 Limited
Runtime: 89 minutes
CRITIC REVIEWS FOR A DARK PLACE (STEEL COUNTRY)
The film, alas, despite [Andrew Scott’s] best efforts, is dramatically inert and riddled with plot holes.
It’s the chemistry between Scott and his female co-stars that makes Steel Country worth a look.
This is a perfectly decent premise for a procedural thriller and Scott does his best to sell it. But some of the plot turns are preposterous and gibberingly ridiculous.
“A Dark Place” is earnest enough, but it comes across as phony. It’s hard to do a “local color” drama when everyone’s from out of town.