From Black 2023 Movie Review
A recovering drug addict, desperate for closure and saddled by crushing guilt after the disappearance of her young son, is presented with a bizarre offer to learn the truth about what happened and set things right – if she is willing to pay a terrifying price.
If I had more time, I might be tempted to go back to From Black and fast-forward through all of the parts of the film where a character a) walks s-l-o-w-l-y up a staircase/down a hallway, b) is shown in slow motion, or c) is shown doing something slowly in slow motion. I’d be willing to bet it should shave off at least (at least!) 10 minutes off the already bloated run time for this disappointing demonic horror which could have turned out quite differently.
Let’s start with the fact that the film has no right being as long as it is, with barely any premise to build off of. As the film opens, Cora (Anna Camp, Pitch Perfect) has been brought in by the police because Something Bad Happened, and she’s cagey about the details. We know there are buckets of blood strewn about a room in her house, and Cora’s in such a state of shock she’s not talking. Still grieving over her son’s disappearance, adding these recent events to her continued pain has only pushed her further toward her breaking point.
That’s when big sister Bray (also an officer) comes in and gets her talking. Can she tell us whom the blood belonged to and why her floors had so many odd symbols, melted candles, and salt sprinkled around? And where is her low-life ex-boyfriend and grief counselor Cain (John Ales, Gatlopp) that had been visiting her more and more lately? Bringing us back to the beginning, Cora recounts the past few months’ events and starts with her son vanishing while she was drugged out and not paying attention to his well-being. Her inability to cope with the loss led her to Cain’s support group, but her guilt prevented her from progressing toward the acceptance she needed to move on.
Cain notices this within her and strikes up a strange friendship, culminating in offering her a seemingly impossible opportunity. She could still see her son again, but only if she worked with Cain on an ancient ritual they would perform in her house over several days. Recoiling at first, Cora’s motherly instincts finally compel her to call – a call that will change everything she knows about life and death. As the ritual proceeds and she’s exposed horrific truths about her life’s trajectory and the death that waits in the darkness, she’ll understand her overall role in a long-standing agreement with evil.
Ours is an Anna Camp household, which is one reason I jumped at seeing the actress leading a horror film. Left to her good instincts, Camp does well as the single mother struggling to battle her grief and lingering addiction with diminished willpower. Paired with an equally watchable Jennifer Lafleur (Nope) as her big sister, the two have an excellent bond. It’s Ales that sours the mix in From Black, bringing uncomfortable energy to the proceedings…and not the type his character is supposed to be offering. With Ales treating the film like a playground for zealous scene-chewing and Camp going for a more naturalistic breakdown, a misalignment of acting styles further drags down From Black.
It’s evident director, and co-writer Thomas Marchese has a firm grasp on the intended tone of From Black. Shot in Mississippi (I’m guessing during COVID due to the lack of extras and the number of 1:1 scenes between Camp and Ales), cinematographer Duncan Cole makes good use of the locale and location shooting. I’d be dishonest if I didn’t give the film high marks for its few decent chills the further Cora ventures into troubling territory, especially the nefarious creature that appears to get stronger the closer she gets to the answers she seeks. That slo-mo, though, kills the pace whenever Marchese employs it. Anytime you see someone mournfully looking up a flight of stairs or pensively peering down a hallway, you better sit back and close your eyes – it’s going to be a long walk.