The Glint of Darkness: Revolution (2020)

Shaarath Vihari’s The Glint of Darkness: Revolution is something of a misfit. It comes with a duration of 51 minutes, falling awkwardly somewhere above the 40-minute bar set by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the American Film Institute and the British Film Institute for a film to qualify as a feature, but well below the 75 minutes stipulated by the Screen Actors Guild. In other words, it is neither quite short enough for a short, nor long enough for a full-blown movie, and still feels – as much as Vihari’s earlier 11-minute short The Glint of Darkness (2017) from which this has been expanded – like a proof of concept for a bigger, later project.

Yet misfit cinema is where invention takes place, and while the paranoid sci-fi themes of this emerging series – cloning, conspiracy, mind control – are well-trodden by other films, here the constraints of working with a very low budget force Vihari to innovate in the way he presents these materials. And make no mistake, this is a labour of love. Vihari is an engineer by day, but has invested all his free time into a film which he has written, directed, co-produced (with his wife Chandana), shot (alongside Solomon Samuel), edited and choreographed for fights and stuntwork. He also stars as the mysterious Noah Black and several other super-soldiers who share Noah’s DNA. The Glint of Darkness: Revolution falls into a subgenre normally associated with loud spectacle – think the sexed-up hyperviolence of television’s Dark Angel, the Universal Soldier franchise, The Matrix series, Park Hoon-jung’s The Witch: Part 1 – The Subversion (2018) and Ang Lee’s Gemini Man (2019) – but Vihari instead opts for a muted monochrome, and has all his characters deliver their lines in a calm whisper. Even the combat sequences, though taking place between genetically advanced super-soldiers, are understated and low-key, with no special effects or whizzbang explosions. “It all sounds like a superhero movie, you know,” comments the film’s accidental heroine Sasha (Brinda Shivram) – but it sure does not look or feel like one. This is refreshing – as though SF action were being filtered through the shadowy obliquities of film noir. This subdued approach to what would more typically be over-the-top, excitable plotting feels as much like a mannered renewal as a reduplication of familiar tropes.

Speaking of reduplications, The Glint of Darkness: Revolution not only deals in clones, but clones its own plot. For It opens with a video message from journalist Heena Siddique (Arshiya Gul), in which she declares, “If you’re watching this video, it means that I’m probably dead”, and then tells of a secret organisation that she has been investigating which is creating and controlling cloned super-soldiers. Cut to two years later, and this story repeats itself, as the hard-drive that Heena once held falls into the hands of Sasha, who is similarly a journalist, and she too finds herself targeted by assassins who will do anything to get their hands on the MacGuffin-like storage device in her possession. Only Noah, a rogue super-soldier back from rumoured death, stands between Sasha and, well, predatory versions of himself – but he has been here before, and last time the story did not have a happy ending…

Shot, mostly at night, around Hyderabad, Glint of Darkness: Revolution uses editing as its main weapon, not just intercutting within a single scene to create the illusion that Vihari is playing two identical characters in combat with each other, but also cutting between different times and places to make a fairly straightforward narrative take on an elliptical quality. It is not always economic, in what is after all a film rooted in different repetitions, and the characters, here blandly functional, could be better developed. Still, this is an ambitious epic made on a shoestring – think John Frankenheimer’s The Manchurian Candidate (1959) in modern India – and it would be interesting to see where Vihari could take this unresolved story in a full feature with proper financing. Certainly it ends on a cliffhanger, and the closing credits promise “The Glint of Darkness will return”, so perhaps the misfit will come back out of the shadows, its concept now proven.

strap: Shaarath Vihari’s lo-fi sci-fi action noir shows an organisation willing to kill to ensure its super-soldier programme stays in the shadows

© Anton Bitel