Consider Darken a post-apocalyptic fixer-upper

Want to create an entire alternate reality on a shoestring? Why not make it a world where everything looks like the inside of a dilapidated warehouse, one where the windows never open or offer a view? Clothe your characters in whatever sartorial leftovers wardrobe can scrounge, including leather, puffy shirts and punk attire. And arm them with anachronistic odds and ends – knives, spears, a shotgun, a baseball bat, a sledgehammer, maybe a chainsaw.

The wonder is that Canadian director Audrey Cummings manages to go so far from such motley beginnings. Darken opens on a ragtag collective of worshippers of an entity called Mother Darken, a name that unfortunately sounds sillier the more it gets repeated. One of the acolytes dares question high priestess Clarity (Christine Horne), and is banished – into our world, as it happens, where she enlists the aid of a passing nurse named Eve (Bea Santos).

Thrust into the Darken world, Eve quickly finds an ally in Kali (Olunike Adeliyi, delivering a standout performance) and starts trying to figure out what this place is all about. It’s a journey the audience will share, since the screenplay from TV writer RJ Lackie provides precious little information; characters speak obscurely (and darkly, of course) of disciples, keepers, outsiders, exiles and a place called Haven.

The script also cleverly makes the best of what it’s got. When Eve finds a map scrawled on a wall, she’s informed that it represents only a portion of this realm. “Does your world have an end?” Kali asks her. “Or a way out?”

Darken’s make-do aesthetic and post-apocalyptic fixer-upper architecture reminded me of an old Canadian sci-fi show called The Starlost. (That 1970s series was not well received, so I should stress that I remember it fondly.) The sense of a TV pilot is strengthened by a nifty twist ending, and a post-credit teaser. The filmmakers have even expanded their universe with a short web series called Before the Dark, which you can find at the YouTube channel KindaTV.

The setting seems both finite and yet somehow boundless and bountiful, and the drama resists genre-fication. It’s no wonder the film won the best science-fiction feature prize at a Buffalo film fest, and the best fantasy feature award at another in Detroit. It’s not perfect, but it’s got a little something for everyone.

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