Dark Chronicles (2021)
“Possession” Written and Directed by Dustin Reiffer
“Relic” Written and Directed by Christopher M. Carter
“What Hides Within” Written by Jessica Morgan & Dustin Reiffer
“What Hides Within” Directed by Dustin Reiffer
“The Conductor” Written and Directed by Christopher M. Carter
Unrated, 125 minutes
The celluloid equivalent to tales told around a campfire, anthology horror films are always a mixed bag. For every V/H/S there’s a Tales from the Darkside the Movie. There’s always a chance that you’ll witness more entertaining filler than true nail biters that send you racing for the safety of your thermal blankets. Unfortunately, Dark Chronicles, for its wealth of intriguing setups, falls into the later category due to fragmented storytelling and odd directing choices.
The four vignettes, each introduced by a collector of dark tales, consist of a tale of possession, a cursed relic, a post zombie apocalypse survivor and a supernaturally tinged revenge thriller.
The first and shortest entry, “Possession” centers around a priest trying to rid a young woman of demonic possession while holding her captive. In the opening shot we’re introduced to the young woman coughing up blood in the shower and the presence of what appears to be black mold gathering in small patches over her skin. The choice of patches of “black mold” on the woman’s skin is inspired. It’s a subtle indicator that provides just the right amount of intrigue as to what has befallen her. Later, when she lies about coughing up blood to the priest, the audience is fully invested in her character and her motivations. The interplay between her and the priest serves to ratchet up the tension. There is a possibility that the priest may be hallucinating the woman’s possession, but the story abruptly ends. The collector of stories appears and tells us that this was the priest’s tale all along and he was the one truly in torment. If that was the case, then why focus on the young woman and not the priest from the very start? Possession has a great premise that seems tailor made for an effective low budget horror film. Unfortunately, its brief run time doesn’t allow enough room to properly shift its character focus, leaving the denouement about the priest feeling tacked on instead of revelatory.
“Relic,” the second story, finds three college friends visiting an ominous antique store in hopes of hearing some tales of terror as the kickoff event to their Halloween celebrations. It’s here that they are introduced to Aeliana, the Victorian mourning-shrouded store owner, and a table of her most prized curiosities. Each of the items has a story and a curse, but those items are cast aside when one of the trio finds an ancient journal with strange writing within and asks Aeliana to translate. With barely any hesitation she translates an entry from the journal, pausing briefly to ask each of the listeners to recite a word from the passage. Unbeknownst to the trio they have just participated in a summoning and the creature they have conjured demands sacrifice! A gruesome little spook show, “Relic” would have been the perfect framing device for the rest of the film. In fact, a few of the relics mentioned, especially The Devil’s Mirror, could have warranted entries of their own.
“What Hides Within” is a zombie apocalypse interlude. While tension-filled and harrowing, the narrative and downbeat ending are sadly derivative. The Zombie Apocalypse is clearly a staple of modern Pop Culture, but having the audience solely rely on their knowledge of the trope with no other explanation provided is apathetic world-building. This decision does a disservice to the actors as well rendering their strong performances unintentionally moot because we have seen these same story beats countless times before.
The final entry centers around a young professional seeking shelter from a storm in a desolate dive bar. She inadvertently becomes a pawn in a revenge scheme against the bar owner by a former business partner. “The Conductor” is the most substantial in terms of storyline and performances. The plot twist is quite surprising, giving the whole piece a tone reminiscent of one of the better episodes of Night Gallery. That being stated, there is a hiccup during the scene where we’re given the most exposition in which a character explains his backstory to the bar owner instead of focusing his performance on the young professional who has no knowledge of him or motivation for his extreme actions.
Dark Chronicles is currently available to stream through Prime Video, TubiTV , GooglePlay, Mircosoft Movies and TV, and various other digital platforms.