Horror movies mixing serial killer narratives with police procedurals and the supernatural are a mixed bag. Look back at movies like End of Days, The First Power, or Resurrection and there’s not a great track records for meshing these genres. But The Cell balanced its serial killer story with wildly inventive visuals. Now the latest VOD release, A Dark Foe, promises a twist on what sounds like the type of thriller made popular following the success of The Silence of the Lambs. Tortured FBI agents tracking down sadistic killers sounds formulaic. Still writer and director Maria Gabriela Cardenas gives her FBI agent a unique problem – a fear of the dark. To date, audience ratings are strong even if critics haven’t weighed in.
Years ago Tony Cruz witnessed a ruthless serial killer known as The Cradle murder his mother and abduct his sister. Now an FBI agent still pursuing the same murderer, Cruz suffers from nyctophobia – a gripping fear of the dark. When his illness triggers an episode during an FBI stakeout, Cruz quickly finds himself unemployed. But rather than give up his personal hunt for The Cradle, Cruz goes undercover as a bodyguard for a former prostitute turned wealthy socialite. Soon her connections to underground sex trafficking rings bring Cruz closer to the killer from his past and a nightmare world of violence and depravity.
A Dark Foe Faces Its Worst Enemy – An Incomprehensible Story and Wild Tonal Shifts
Based on its premise alone, A Dark Foe sounds like any psychological thriller you might have seen in the 1990s when serial killer movies were all the rage. Following its stylish opening, writer and director Maria Gabriela Cardenas seems committed to a familiar path. Each subsequent scene, however, takes the movie further away from its premise. By the time the halfway point rolls around, no synopsis in the world could adequately capture what you’re seeing on screen. First, Cardenas awkwardly meshes her serial killer story with neo noir, early aughts’ ‘Torture Porn’, and telenovela melodrama. Sometimes A Dark Foe crams all these styles together in single scenes; other times it shifts from one to the other. The result is a tonally inconsistent movie that’s best described as bizarre.
Yet an increasingly incomprehensible story exacerbates the movie’s wild tonal shifts.
At this point it’s worth noting that Cardenas shows visual flair as a filmmaker. Whether it’s sun-soaked landscapes, neon-drenched clubs, or burnt out warehouses, A Dark Foe always looks good. Yet an increasingly incomprehensible story exacerbates the movie’s wild tonal shifts. As the movie progresses, characters randomly appear and disappear as the plot spiderwebs into what feels like bizarre tangents. There’s a twin sister caught in a prostitution ring that’s connected to The Cradle who inexplicably has a morbidly obese daughter hidden away who also happens to have some sort skin conditions and he’s transplanting victims’ skin to and so it goes on. Though Cardenas doesn’t discard Cruz’s ‘fear of the dark’ it’s a storyline that jostles for attention among a half dozen or so other story oddities.
A Dark Foe Miscasts, Misuses, and Underuses Its Cast
Consistent with its convoluted story, A Dark Foe suffers from a range of casting issues. Both Oscar Cardenas (Tony Cruz) – also a co-writer and the director’s father – and Kenzie Dalton (Rebecca Crawford) are miscast. Neither actor has much presence and Cruz never convincingly sells his character’s ‘tortured’ soul. That A Dark Foe puts the two actors in a mismatched romance only makes the hokey dialogue they’re forced to recite worse. Not surprisingly, Graham Greene delivers the movie’s best performance as The Cradle. But the story’s appropriation of Indigenous culture for its killer’s motive feels pretty tasteless.
…Graham Greene delivers the movie’s best performance as The Cradle.
While Selma Blair does in fact show up in the movie, it’s more of an extended cameo. And the rest of the supporting cast is a mixed bag. Fans of the Fox series 24 will recognize Glenn Morshower who has too little screen time. As Cruz’s former partner, Bill Bellamy turns in flat performance. Conversely, Trisha Rae Stahl delivers histrionics as the grotesquely ill daughter of The Cradle. Absolutely no one benefits from a screenplay laced with clunky dialogue.
A Dark Foe is an Incoherently Bizarre Thriller
Whether A Dark Foe is a genuinely bad movie or not is hard to pinpoint. What’s certain is that Cardenas’ movie doesn’t so much stray from its basic premise as it splinters. In addition to its mixing of multiple genres, A Dark Foe becomes increasingly incoherent – and ugly – as it progresses. Things don’t necessarily twist and turn as much as they unfold with confusing dream-like logic. By the time a hulking masked luchador turns up there really isn’t much point in trying to make sense of the story. Yet what’s most strange about A Dark Foe is the number of glowing audience reviews in the absence of just about about any formal critic reviews. Clearly, someone likes this movie – I’m just not to whom I’d ever recommend it.