Dark Touch (2013)

First published by Grolsch FilmWorks

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A dark and stormy night. A big old classically furnished house in the middle of nowhere. A shelf collapses, a baby cries, shadows move within, and a scream is heard. Right from its opening scene, Dark Touch uses the trappings of pure gothic (including elements of the supernatural) to dramatise human horrors beyond all rational understanding. Something sends 11-year-old Niamh (Missy Keating) running into the dark woods in just her nighty, all cut and bruised, and with a nasty gash in her tongue that emblematises both her own inability to articulate, and others’ unwillingness to hear, the full awfulness of what has happened in that house.

“Children don’t always realise how violent they can be,” says Maud (Catherine Walker), ascribing the bruises on her infant son Kieran’s belly to his ‘jealous’ sister Niamh. Yet not long afterwards, when Niamh survives another nocturnal incident that leaves Maud, her husband Henry (Richard Dormer) and Kieran dead, we know (because we saw it for ourselves) that the young girl is not lying when she claims that the house itself went crazy – even if no-one else believes her.

While the local police investigate the murders, a withdrawn and clearly damaged Niamh is placed in the care of family friends Nat and Lucas Gallin (Marcella Plunkett, Padraic Delaney). Herself still recovering from the loss of her eldest daughter Mary to cancer, Nat seems wilfully blind to the marks and signs written all over Niamh’s body and behaviour, and equally in denial about the strange psychic energies gathering around Niamh and making objects move of their own accord. Indeed no-one seems to wants to acknowledge openly what is going on – and so a cycle of mistrust, misunderstanding and extreme betrayal will lead the entire town to pay dearly for what has gone unnoticed in their midst.

Written and directed by Marina de Van (In My Skin, Don’t Look Back), Dark Touch is a bleak tragedy of vengeance as misdirected as it is disproportionate, with the innocent repeatedly suffering for the sins of the monstrously guilty – or else becoming monsters themselves. Niamh’s preternatural actions, all at once twisted and thoroughly understandable, allegorise the guilt, trauma and perverse duplicity that surround child abuse, able to tear an entire community apart and leave deep scars in the future. Reminiscent of Carrie (1976) without the religion, or Village of the Damned (1960) without the aliens, Dark Touch is uncompromising, utterly chilling, and actually about something – the misuse of power, whether a parent’s or a child’s. It is also unmissable.

Anton Bitel