In horror movies, deals with the Devil almost invariably end poorly for all involved. Wishmaster. Ready or Not. Devil’s Advocate. Dracula Untold. And it doesn’t matter if it’s just a demon – say, like Hellraiser – evil rarely keeps the promise as you intended or hoped. Nevertheless, ‘what if’ premises remain popular in horror, fantasy, and sci-fi in part because they exploit a wish fulfilment concept. Now this week’s Shudder release, From Black, recycles a familiar horror story – the parent desperate to bring back a dead child.
Several years ago, Cora was a junkie whose son went missing while she was strung out and binging. Now she’s clean and sober but struggles everyday with grieving and the guilt that she couldn’t save her only child. But when an odd man from her support group approaches her with a way to bring back her son, Cora gives in to desperation. Will the ritual come with a price too steep for her?
From Black Looks Good, But Sluggish Pacing Holds It Back
As far as opening scenes go, From Black kicks things off decidedly on the right foot. It’s a quiet and ominous prologue where a crackling 911 emergency call in the background immediately sets a foreboding tone. Evidence of bloodshed also promises future a grisly moment. From that point onward, director Thomas Marchese effectively maintains a spooky atmosphere for the entire hour and 40 minutes. Oftentimes Marchese relies a little much on mixing quiet and loud moments. For instance, the score, which is comprised of sharp string chords, feels omnipresent. While the sound quality is excellent, dialogue scenes are often very quiet relative to those suspenseful moments where the volume ramps up.
Regardless of all its atmosphere, From Black’s pacing is too slow to ever put audiences on the edge of their seats.
Another strength of From Black includes some of the horror imagery and overall production values. This is a sharp-looking thriller with first-rate camera work and good cinematography. What’s missing is much in the way of any sort of action or scares. Specifically, Marchese leaves large gaps between any sort of forward motion. Not even the narrative structure of flipping back and forth between the events leading up to the ‘ritual’ and the post-investigation do much to propel things forward. This isn’t so much a slow burn – very little happens for long stretches of time. Regardless of all its atmosphere, From Black’s pacing is too slow to ever put audiences on the edge of their seats.
From Black Doesn’t Do Enough To Distinguish Itself From Better Movies
In addition to its lack of scares and action, From Black suffers to some extent from familiarity. Though it’s rich in mood, Marchese and co-writer Jessub Flower are treading on familiar ground. There’s quite a few ‘deal with the devil horror movies’, but From Black will likely conjure up associations to the superior A Dark Song. Both movies focus on mothers who have lost a child and turn to the occult to bring their child back. And each movie spends a great deal of time exploring the practices of the occult. While no one needs to re-invent the wheel for any type of movie, the similarities between A Dark Song and From Black are enough to draw unfavourable comparisons for the Shudder release.
There’s quite a few ‘deal with the devil horror movies’, but From Black will likely conjure up associations to the superior A Dark Song.
Aside from its atmosphere, From Black benefits greatly from Anna Camp’s (Pitch Perfect, Creepshow) performance. Camp’s role couldn’t be more removed from her Pitch Perfect character, but she fully inhabits the role. For this sort of horror movie, the audience needs to believe that a character would be desperate enough to make such an obviously terrible decision. And Camp balances a steely reserve with a pure desperation that makes her extremely relatable. Her character is underwritten, which only makes the performance that much better.
From Black Does Too Little For Too Long to Be Consistently Scary
In spite of its promising opening scene, From Black suffers from glacial pacing and a dissatisfying, abrupt ending. Very little happens for long stretches of time. This kind of pacing gives the audience too much time to see the parallels with other – and quite frankly better – movies as well as pick out the direction of twists. When things do happen From Black doesn’t do much that we haven’t seen in the past. Marchese hangs a consistent feeling of dread over his movie, but relies too much on alternating between quiet and loud sounds. Though Anna Camp’s performance is strong, it’s not enough to earn this supernatural thriller anything more than a lukewarm recommendation.