Dark Encounter (2019)

Dark Encounter first published by VODzilla.co

On 17th November, 1982, in Blue Hill County, Pennsylvania, Ray (Mel Raido) and Olivia (Laura Fraser) Anderson had returned home from a dinner date in town to find the hot water tap running and their daughter missing. Now, one year to the day after eight-year-old Maisie’s mysterious disappearance, the whole extended family has reassembled in the house after a memorial service. 

They are still broken. Ray is bitter, aggressive and cantankerous, and barely getting on with anybody – including his wife and teenaged son Noah (Spike White), who is struggling to live a normal life. Ray’s eldest brother the widower Morgan (Vincent Regan) is constantly reminded of his own wife’s death. Olivia’s sister Arlene (Alice Lowe) tries to be loving and supportive. Ray’s younger brother Billy (Sid Phoenix) has commitment issues, while Arlene’s husband Kenneth (Grant Masters), the local Deputy Sheriff, feels that he has let the family down, guilt-ridden in his failure to solve the case. Maisie’s absence, still unexplained, has left a gaping hole of sorrow and dysfunction in its wake.

Yet on this evening, something strange – “something unnatural,” as Kenneth puts it, “something evil” – will happen. Lights appear in the sky, and as the menfolk head out into the woods to investigate, Olivia and Arlene hear strange noises around the house. Soon the family comes under attack from all sides by an alien presence that is trying to make some kind of contact – and as they band together to survive this onslaught of electrical interference, flickering lights and confounded gravity, they will be led to a revelation of what Maisie knew, but nobody else realised, twelve months earlier.

Writer/director Carl Strathie’s follow-up feature after his debut with Solis (2018), Dark Encounter is once again science fiction, while bringing horror into its mix, as this family, already beleaguered by grief, finds itself under further siege from forces altogether more overwhelming and irrational. “They took Maisie, didn’t they?” says Noah to Olivia – but as what starts as a spectacular light show soon gives way to time-leaping, space-travelling, reality-bending haunted house tropes, Strathie’s twisty domestic enigma shows the influence as much of Gregg Arraki’s Mysterious Skin (2004) as of Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977). 

Called to investigate the anomalies at the house, Sheriff Reese Jordan (Nicholas Pinnock) and Deputy Miles (Sean Knopp) are bewildered as to what is unfolding, even if they believe Olivia when she insists that something has happened. This is all essential to  a film in which Strathie finds the oddest, most oblique off-world routes to parcelling out narrative information, and suggests that there can sometimes be nothing from which we are more alienated than the goings-on in our own home. Even if it is presented with luminous visuals and awe-inspiring special effects, this is a harrowing story, exposing the cracks in a family’s tight-knit structure. Some, though, may remain unconvinced by its secular take on a deus ex machina, and by the truly Spielbergian sentimentalism of its ending. 

Summary: Carl Strathie’s missing-child mystery wraps small-town domestic drama in Spielbergian sci-fi