In the run up to the DVD release of Julian Richards' Shiver, MVD Entertainment have re-released his 1996 mystery crime thriller, Darklands.
When investigative reporter Frazier discovers that the murder of a trainee reporter’s brother and the sacrifice of an animal in the local church may be linked to a local druid cult, he is determined to solve the mystery and seek justice. But in doing so, he finds himself knee-deep in devil worship, satanic rituals and deviant conspiracies. Past the point of no return, Frazier must battle with his dark past to try to fit the pieces together and put an end to those who walk the ‘darklands’. Otherwise human sacrifice may mark his fate.
A mystery crime thriller imbued with religious extremism, Darklands is for the most part a slow burner, and at times dwindles its running time away. Frazier’s love interest Rachel both attracts and distracts him from his involvement in the crimes, while his amateurish detective work unravels the cultural demonizing connotations of the extremist cult and society’s stereotypes of the gypsy suspects occupying hostile, primitive and violent existences. As disclosed information reveals betrayal and deceit by those around him, we encounter the path of Frazier’s progressive awareness until its bloody end.
But although these topics are thought-provoking and the chases stirring alongside its conventional 1990s energetic score, Darklands takes its time to up the momentum to Julian Richards’ standards. Ultimately it’s the behind-the-scenes activity of the celtic cult that provides the electrifying pace and suspense. Dressed in thick make up and ritualistic paint, and dancing in rings of fire, the traditional satanic group led by a deep-voiced, calmly spoken chief may be all too obviously reminiscent of The Wicker Man (1973), but is nonetheless mystifyingly fantastical in its underworld of urban Wales setting – something in which Richards’ excels. Gruesome depictions of throat-slitting animals and bludgeoning murders for their sacrificial ceremonies make up much of the gory sequences and are, too, effectively simplistic but realistic.
With such a dominating screen presence, it’s no surprise Craig Fairbrass (Cliffhanger, The Bank Job, Eastenders) made many future appearances in the genre. Largely a one man operation, he holds his own as the paranoid journalist transitions from the hunter to the hunted, and stands out amongst the largely melodramatic performances, as does Dave Duffy (The Secret of Roan Inish, Hamlet) as the cult’s initiator.
VERDICT: As one of the Richards’ first crime thrillers, Darklands bravely dances around then-controversial themes with a good script to match an unforeseen finale, even if it fails to expose them from the get go.
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