In Darkness We Fall

Spain’s young actors have had a miserable time of it in recent years. Among other unpleasant fates, they’ve been turned into man-eating zombies (the [REC] series), trapped inside a shrinking room (Fermat’s Theorem), and been holed up overnight in a Laundromat with a serial killer (Blind Alley). At some level, all of these fates are rolled into one for the hapless protagonists of Alfredo Montero’s derivative but watchable In Darkness We Fall, in which a group of friends gets hopelessly lost in a labyrinthine underground cave, recording all the while as they go.

Spotted in an earlier version at Sitges 2012 and now remade, Fall resembles a mashup of Blair Witch without the woods, Neil Marshall’s The Descent without the back story, and Lord of the Flies without the existentialism. Pretty much everything apart from the suspense and the shocks has been stripped away, leaving Fall a well-made, sharply-focused and somewhat schlocky B-movie with potential cult appeal for horror purists which, if handled right, could land on its feet beyond the terror fests which are its natural home, as confirmed by its triumph in ZonaZine, a section of the Malaga Film festival devoted to edgier fare.

The standard setup supplies the single thing we need to know about each of the characters. They are aggressive Jaco (Marcos Ortiz), who it’s surprising anyone would have wanted to vacation with; nervy (Eva Garcia Vacas); rational Celia (Marta Castellote), who’s come away in search of peace and solitude, and won’t get it; good-looking Ivan (Jorge Paez), and cameraman Carlos (Xoel Fernandez). (Ortiz and Garcia Vacas took best actor and actress in the ZonaZine section at Malaga.)

Early scenes show them fooling around as they head for the Spanish island of Formentera, where Fall was filmed on location. Climbing down towards a beach, they spot a cave into which Jaco suggests they venture — and soon they’re lost and starting to shout at one another. But it’s going to get a whole lot worse than shouting, as the true character of each of them will come to the surface and determine their fate.

There are shocks, but no surprises. From about half way through, the characters start to flail around in the darkness, and at about the same time the script starts to do the same. The tension bar has already been raised pretty high over the first thirty minutes, and afterwards the script resorts to some pretty unsubtle ways of generating thrills, with suspense giving way to in-your-face horror.

Since the intrinsic excitement of the found footage genre died out a while back, the onus is on film makers to find a new twist on it, and Montoro pulls it off — albeit intermittently – in a couple of really striking scenes, particularly one which involves Jaco diving into water with the camera which surely represents a new high point for the cinema of claustrophobia. Sound work by Miguel Angel Ballesteros, “Wolf”, is terrific, making good use of the aural deadness of the underground world.

Though the characters are about as rounded as a slide rule, the actors are fully committed to making it all as real as possible – hence their awards. There’s a grueling fascination in watching their decline, and their sufferings as the dirt and blood pile on and as they encounter their inner demons is palpable. (Thankfully, the script avoids any long, philosophical monologs – these are young folk without a single interesting thought in their heads, and they stay thoughtless to the very end.)

This must have been a challenge to shoot. Visually, there are limitations on what’s possible under the circumstances – there are no majestic underground galleries here, just one authentically claustrophobic space after another, with night vision camera work heightening the sense that these formerly affable young idiots have turned into pale, ghostly monsters. The wet walls of the cave take on the aspect of jolting, abstract paintings, and through the later stretches the audience starts to feel as lost as the victims.

Most plausibility issues are well handled, despite a couple of moments of risibility. And how lucky that the guys chose to take a battery charger down to the beach.

Production: Morena Films, Alfredo Montero, Marcos Ortiz

Cast: Marcos Ortiz, Marta Castellote, Eva Garcia Vacas, Jorge Paez, Xoel Fernandez

Director, screenwriter, director of photography: Alfredo Montero

Producers: Juan Gordon, Alfredo Montero, Marcos Ortiz

Production designer: Vicente Cardona

Editor: Montero, Nacho Ruiz Capillas

Music: Carlos Goni

Wardrobe: Andreu Ferrer Juan

Sound: Miguel Angel Ballesteros, “Wolf”

Sales: Filmax International

No rating, 80 minutes