Dark Vale is the latest independent British horror film to arrive at Love Horror Towers.
Written and directed by Jason M. J. Brown, the film follows Tom (Darren Randall) and Leah (Cara Middleton) as they go on a short trip to the country together to rekindle the romance in their relationship.
Whilst driving around the rural landscape their car breaks down and they find themselves stranded in an area known as The Vale. Soon after discovering the ominous place they’re introduced to a terrifying resident – a ghostly bride that stalks down anyone unlucky enough to cross her path.
Tom and Leah’s only chance for survival is to find a way out of the Vale and return to civilisation before the spectre gets the better of them.
Unlike many independent horror films made by emerging writer-directors, Dark Vale is no short and simple affair.
At around 1 hour and 25 minutes, Brown has produced a full length feature with a number of characters, plot twists and a fair amount of back story to keep things moving.
Filmed on location in Nottinghamshire, the wooded landscape with grand old buildings is the perfect setting for the tale. Brown and co successfully manage to conjure up a bewildering and intimidating woodland trap for his main characters, using techniques similar to those seen in The Blair Witch Project.
With a good use of makeup and a sprinkling of special effects, the ghost itself looks good and is effective as the lonesome wraith that won’t leave the living alone.
However, there are a few negatives to this otherwise promising project. And unfortunately most of them are common pitfalls that have blighted many an amateur filmmaker.
The first, most obvious problem with The Vale is the cast who all seem to lack experience and fail to deliver a convincing performance (bar the ghost). Darren Randall just isn’t strong enough to lead in this story and fails to emote the terror or passion that one would be feeling in this situation. For instance, as he reads his diary recounting his terrifying encounters with the apparition, you could be mistaken to think that he’s casually reading aloud his weekly shopping list.
The story too is lacking, and seems far too ambitious for an amateur team to produce. It’s too complicated, which makes it hard to follow and some key scenes are missing altogether (fight at the bar in the first part of the film and the ghost giving Leah a drink later on) which just adds to the confusion.
There are also some pretty serious technical issues, which is surprising given that some decent kit was used and that those using it had previous filmmaking experience.
Many of the shots aren’t well composed, there are a number of instances where shots are out of focus, little thought seems to have been given to lighting and the sound is very patchy with volume levels regularly switching from low to high for no good reason.
The 180 degree rule is broken a number of times, which is a pretty basic mistake to make.
Many scenes go on too long, and the whole film could have been trimmed and made more engaging by chopping down lingering shots of people walking or doing mundane things that have no relevance to the story.
The most obvious thing to take from this is that Jason and his crew were maybe lacking input from some experienced film producers on this project. With some advice on the plot, scripts and cinematography Dark Vale could have been more enthralling and most importantly, scary.
There’s no doubt that the film is a big achievement in terms of scale and Dark Vale definitely has a few endearing features and jump scares that show potential. But some improvement is needed if these guys want to compete with the other very strong independent outfits that are fighting for a piece of the UK horror limelight.