Tag Archives: Justin P. Lange

Worn Retread

The Visitor

by Hope Madden

Four years ago, filmmaker Justin P. Lange used our preconceived notions against us to carve out a fresh horror with something meaningful on its mind. He followed his impressive feature debut The Dark with the subpar 2021 exorcism flick The Seventh Day.

This third outing, The Visitor, falls somewhere between the two.

 A young married couple moves back to the wife’s hometown when her father dies and leaves her his big, old gothic house. So far, so garden variety.

The pair’s not even unpacked yet when the husband starts hearing noises, then he’s having nightmares, and then he discovers a painting in the attic bearing his own unmistakable likeness.

Still pretty familiar. The truth is, not a single beat in The Visitor feels truly fresh. The film looks great and performances – especially from the supporting cast that includes veterans Dane Rhodes, Thomas Francis Murphy and Donna Biscoe – keep it lively.

Leads Finn Jones and Jessica McNamee benefit from a genre gender reversal. In nearly every film of this ilk, it’s the female who senses that something in this house and this town is amiss while her husband’s too stoic and dismissive to buy in. Here it’s Londoner Robert (Jones) who sees menace in the overly friendly townsfolk, who dreams of cackling old women. His wife Maya (McNamee) grows more and more hostile to his nonsense, especially now that she’s pregnant and they’re ready to start fresh.

Lange does a serviceable job of mashing together solid elements from better films and packing them in gorgeous autumnal shades. His set designer deserves applause for understated Gothic elegance. But it’s not enough.

Lange’s film boasts no real scares, not a single surprise, little dread. It’s a bland if attractive facsimile of other films we’re already kind of tired of.

Beauty in the Beast

The Dark

by Hope Madden

There are a lot of ways to approach a zombie film, few of them fresh. Zombie flick as YA (young adult) melodrama isn’t even a new idea anymore—2015 saw a surprisingly nuanced Arnold Schwarzenegger nurse his reanimated teen (Abigail Breslin) in Maggie, the best of the batch until now.

Still, writer/director Justin P. Lange has something on his mind with his debut feature The Dark, and he has found a compelling way to tell not-just-another zombie story.

We open on a twist to a familiar scene. A man in a rush, likely a fugitive of some kind, grabs some supplies at an out-of-the way gas station. He opens a map. The lone, wizened clerk points him toward an assumed destination: Devil’s Den.

As familiar as even the twist feels, the truth is that Lange gets more mileage from that old warhorse than you immediately realize. And he will continue to wield our assumptions and biases against us to better direct his story.

The blandly titled The Dark is, at its heart, a guide to overcoming trauma. Nadia Alexander is Mina, the creature that haunts Devil’s Den—a merciless, relentless, thoughtless killer. Until, that is, she comes across Alex, a blind young man (Toby Nichols) who reminds her of what she once was and what could have saved her.

Lange makes a series of clever narrative choices besides simply using our preconceived notions to surprise us. The Dark is, in part, a vengeance fable far less preoccupied by punishing those who do damage than those who should have been there for protection.

Alexander impresses as the beast unhappily and involuntarily rediscovering her humanity. Her silences, particularly in later scenes, are haunting.

As her mirror image and polar opposite, Nichols embodies vulnerability and resilience. There’s an optimism alongside a brokenness in his performance that is both necessary and heartbreaking.

The Dark occasionally skirts mawkishness, but what YA film doesn’t? In truth, Lange doesn’t run from the baggage associated with his chosen genres. He embraces it, forgives it, makes something powerful out of it.