Reviewed by: Jason Oliver
BETWEEN THE DARKNESS, also known as COME, SAID THE NIGHT, the debut feature film from Andreas Rovira, has the feel of what may be a very personal story. It concerns a widower (Lew Temple) raising a 13 year old daughter, Sprout, and younger son, Percy, on his own. They have returned to the family home in the countryside for the first time since the death of the eldest daughter, Magda, a year earlier. The father, Roy, is devoted to the god of silence, Harpocrates, and is consumed in his belief of the ancient Greek gods and goddesses. He seems to be a jovial, folksy man who treats his children with kindness and love, but there’s an air of unease about him as you learn more of the religious obsession he is intent on indoctrinating his children with. It’s an interesting choice to use Greek mythology as a placeholder for what could be any number of religions or cults. It allows Rovira to show extreme religious devotion in an unhealthy and dangerous light without giving offense to any specific credo (unless of course you are a devotee of the Pantheon yourself). He also encourages his children to pick a god or goddess as their spiritual guide, much like Catholicism when you pick a saint as your Confirmation name.
The film primarily follows the daughter, Sprout (Nicole Moorea Sherman), as she navigates the uncertainty, excitement, and expectations of her sexual awakening while transitioning into early adulthood. She is very aware of her changing body and newfound interest in the neighbor boy, Max, but she’s also holding on to the playful imagination and dress-up of her childhood. She is plagued by night terrors and sleep paralysis, seeing images of a dark demonic shape that also begins to infiltrate and haunt her daytime adventures. Using the only frame of reference she has, she is convinced that she is being stalked by a Gorgon, but at first her father Roy doesn’t believe this is possible. His disbelief isn’t that he doesn’t believe in Gorgons, but that Medusa was the last of them and no more exist. You see this Gorgon as Sprout does, but you also see this apparent creature’s point of view as it observes the family on their arrival at the cabin. Eventually, Roy, in a manic episode, tells Sprout he does believe her and that they will handle the Gorgon together in a moment of emotional bonding between father and daughter.
While the plot untangles itself over the course of the film, it begins to reveal its flaws as well. Rovira clearly has something to say about coming of age, religious belief, parental sexual repression, family, grief, the manifestation of trauma, loss of innocence, and a cornucopia of other themes. The problem is that while none of this subtext or symbolism is remotely subtle, it’s all presented in a way that is so unfocused and haphazard that it’s too disorienting to decipher what point Rovira is attempting to get across to his audience. Some of the deficiency is also in the direction of the actors. Lew Temple’s performance goes everywhere and nowhere. You never really understand his motivations beyond maybe some caricature of mental illness, which I find problematic in its own right. I’m not sure he understands as an actor why his character thinks the way he does. Nicole Moorea Sherman is a rising talent, and is at times wonderful, but her inexperience betrays her here as Rovira asks too much from her. She’s not quite strong enough to carry the story on her back. Danielle Harris is mostly wasted as a park ranger who is falling in love with Roy. She’s written to be cannon fodder and not much more. Her few maternal scenes with Sprout are sweet but don’t amount to much.
Yet, through all of this, there is the budding of Rovira’s own coming of age as a filmmaker. I think this was a bit of an experiment for him as you can see the deliberate choices he makes with the camera and some of the more surreal moments are creative and interesting, but it doesn’t seem likely that he was able to spend the time and care with each decision that he would have liked. Still, as a first feature, BETWEEN THE DARKNESS is impressive in its ambition and craftsmanship. It’s an engaging, if not predictable story, that doesn’t quite come together by the end. With a little more focus and a tighter script, it would have been more of a success. I do suspect that it will find an audience due to the array of themes presented, from which nearly every viewer will find something personal to their own lives. There is a sadness in Sprout’s final conclusion about gods and monsters to the degree that I wonder if Rovira really believes those words. Or, he’s commenting on how a malicious spiritual upbringing can spin a person 180 degrees into an equally unhealthy worldview.
While BETWEEN THE DARKNESS doesn’t shy away from complex and interesting themes, it ultimately felt too much like the miscalculated sum of the superior films FRAILTY and DOGTOOTH to give much more consideration, but I do still look forward to what comes next from Andreas Rovira.
DarkCoast will release the film onto digital streaming platforms August 20th (Amazon, iTunes, inDemand, DIRECTV, Vudu, FANDANGO, Vimeo on Demand, AT&T, Google Play, Sling/Dish).