A Folk Horror Gem
Sal (J.J. Barry) lives in the countryside near a small town with his girlfriend who runs a local art gallery. Sal accidentally runs into and kills a young neighbor girl with his truck. The Grandfather (William Robertson) of the girl is torn to pieces about her death, and when the courts rule it an accident, he turns to the occult to get his revenge. He places a curse on Sal and almost right away, things start going bad. Sal frequently sees a dark, hooded and robed figure lurking outside his house, sometimes at night but sometimes in broad daylight. He has physical problems, like dizziness and shortness of breath. Almost always when this happens, he sees the Grandfather nearby, staring, leering. Eventually he turns to a psychic witch (Kim Hunter) to help free him from this curse. But things only get worse from there…
Dark August is a little movie full of creepy moments and chilling suspense. It’s one of those slow-burn films, where the terror gradually builds as we get to know Sal and his girlfriend and their various foibles and hang-ups. Sal is charming, if a bit tortured, nearing middle age, with a smoking problem and lack of patience. He feels guilty about what happened but doesn’t feel it warrants the torment he’s undergoing. In the meanwhile, the Grandfather is lurking, casting his spells, causing trouble. And there’s something about this backwoods hoodoo that feels earthy and authentic, like this is exactly how something like this would happen. There are no spectacular moments, no jump scares or big, brash noise, only shifting darkness, unease, dread, and the occasional dark, hooded menace. Towards the end, we get an authentic banishing ritual and a series of violent moments that are shocking and terrifying. All the quiet buildup has led to this, and it’s devastating.
In its own way, Dark August is a small masterpiece of Folk Horror. It captures life in a little town, the rural and rustic nature of its inhabitants, how closely-knit everyone is, and yet how utterly separated they truly are. It also manages to convey a deep occult anxiety, as the hidden world begins to seep into every aspect of Sal’s life. Once bright and lively forests now appear darker, full of terrors waiting to jump from behind any tree. A reality that was once solid and understandable has changed, turning slippery and unsure. Sal can’t trust anyone, not even himself. This is a creepy, wonderful little gem of a film and worth your patience.
Three and a Half Stars out of Four