Film Reviews:

The Passion of Darkly Noon

(Philip Ridley, UK/Ger, 1996)

Religion gets a rough ride in English director Philip Ridley's second impressive feature in a tale of repression and obsession that lead to aggression. Living at the heart of an American forest (actually filmed in Germany) are Callie (Ashley Judd) and her mute boyfriend Clay. Clay and Callie live alone in a secluded house, Clay making a living by crafting coffins for the nearest town, while Callie lives a life seemingly of leisure, but in reality in hiding from Clay's mother, Roxy who blames Callie for her husband's death. Callie insists his death of a heart attack came as he was raping her. Roxy believes Callie is a witch who cursed her husband. Into this setting comes a young man named Darkly Noon (Brendan Fraser) who has fled from is home many miles away after the fundamentalist Christian community in which he was raised was ransacked by outsiders ignorance and fearful of their unusual lifestyle. His home was burnt and his parents shot dead. Darkly is taken in by Callie while her boyfriend is away on one of his occasional excursions to calm his severe temper. The friendship that quickly grows between the two outcasts is put sharply into perspective once Clay returns to the loving arms of his girlfriend. Sleeping in the barn next to the house, Darkly's mind becomes increasingly confused by his predicament. He experiences feelings he has never had before, he is plagued by visions of his dead parents and his repressed childhood is shattered in a week of uncontrollable turmoil when Darkly rapidly looses his grip on reality as his obsession with Callie becomes all-consuming.

Powered along by Nick Bicât's stirring score (both dramatic and tender), director Philip Ridley fulfils the promise he showed in his début, The Reflecting Skin. A visual director whose compositions and images have a magical, often surreal, quality but never exist at the expense of the script. The Passion of Darkly Noon is a totally gripping yet sedately-paced affair - a proverbial pressure cooker of a story, driven by character interaction. As each day passes (signalled by an on-screen caption), Darkly slowly but surely slips into madness. His jealousy of Clay and Callie's physical relationship leading to self mutilation. What starts as masturbation from behind the barn walls, while watching Callie through a crack in the woodwork, eventually becomes a penance for his sinful thoughts, when Darkly envelops his chest in a Christ-like garland of barbed wire. As the veneer of normality peels away Ridley's direction follows suit. The editing becomes increasingly harsh as Darkly's mental stability deteriorates and what was at first only seen as a sun-drenched home, perpetually surrounded by an amber glow, becomes a dark old house shrouded in the night and plagued by a prophetic thunderstorm. If the truth be told this is a thinking man's slasher film and the only real thing Ridley appears to be warning us of is that religion can really screw you up. Entirely a film of the 90s, made by a true visionary, and absolutely stunning.

Rob Dyer