Catalog from the Beyond, like many horror movie columns, comes with an implied suggestion to the reader that they should check out the movie that’s being covered. I’ve discussed movies that I’ve loved as well as movies that are deeply flawed, but there’s always an unspoken assertion that if I’ve taken the time to write about a movie, then I think it’s worth your time. Well, this month I say screw all that “unspoken” nonsense. I’m flat out asking—nay, begging—that you watch this month’s movie, The Passion of Darkly Noon. To be fair, I can’t in good conscience make any claim that this 1996 movie from Philip Ridley is any good, but I also can’t stop thinking about it. Therefore, I need someone else to join me in my obsession.
Things began normally enough. I was brainstorming for my latest edition when I found Darkly Noon, which I figured would be a funky, low-budget ’90s thriller starring Viggo Mortensen. Mortensen, of course, has a prolific filmography that includes some notable turns in horror. He’s played a member of the Sawyer clan in the underrated Texas Chainsaw Massacre III, and he had a brief but memorable turn as Lucifer in The Prophecy. But he’s also made quite a career for himself in murkier, not strictly horror fare such as my very first Catalog entry, A History of Violence. So, when I saw that Darkly Noon was streaming on Shudder, I expected a movie that dwelled in that same murky area.
I cannot tell you how unprepared I was for what I got. Darkly Noon (Brendan Fraser), a young man whose David Koresh-esque family named him by pointing to a random passage in the Bible, opens the movie stumbling around the woods after his home was apparently firebombed by the local townsfolk. He escapes and winds up at the farmhouse of Callie (Ashley Judd) a free-spirited woman who lives with Clay (Mortensen), a mute carpenter who at the start of the film is on one of his regular journeys in the woods. This leaves Callie to nurse Darkly back to health, and just as Darkly comes to terms with the naughty feelings he’s having for Callie, Clay returns to resume his normal routine with Callie. This routine appears to rely primarily on humping like jackrabbits, and Darkly responds to this turn of events by diving right the hell off the deep end.
Darkly’s decent into insanity permeates every frame of the movie. I picked up some mid-’90s Skinemax vibes in the first act, with Judd spending most of the time wearing disheveled shirts baring large percentages of midriff and for some reason doing roof repairs in a short sundress. But other than a passing shot of Brendan Fraser’s ass, the film eschews softcore nudity for some of the weirdest cinematic choices I’ve ever seen in my life.
What choices, you ask? Well, first there are those of Philip Ridley The Screenwriter, whose script features a man wrapping himself in barbed wire and having discussions with hallucinations of his zombified parents. Then we have Philip Ridley The Director, who takes Screenwriter Ridley’s bizarre script and focuses it through a lens that is transcendently cockamamie. Picture, if you will, an extended shot of Darkly staring at a giant, sparkly shoe as it floats down the river. How did it get there? What does it mean? Hell if I know, and I’ll be damned if the attempt at an explanation at the end of the movie isn’t more confusing than if they’d just neglected to mention it at all.
Then we have the choices of the performers, none of whom can be derided for playing it safe. Mortensen, alas, is woefully underused in the film, both in terms of screen time and due to the fact that he doesn’t have a single line of dialogue. But this is Mortensen we’re talking about, so he’s going to commit. As does Fraser, who swings for the fences in the titular role. I couldn’t help but wonder if his performance was the inspiration for Ben Stiller’s portrayal of Simple Jack in Tropic Thunder. But I can’t simply write the performance off as bad. Is it laughingly over the top at times? Definitely. But there are moments when the laughter stops and genuine dread takes over.
Which brings me to my real dilemma. While my first inclination is to file Darkly Noon under the category of “So Bad It’s Good,” I’m enthralled by this movie in a way that a “bad” one could never achieve. Even the editing has me baffled, but even though I couldn’t help but notice the jarringly random cuts and abrupt scene endings, there’s a sense that these edits are deliberate, as if they’re actively trying to distort the viewing experience. For a movie about a man’s descent into madness, such decisions certainly set the appropriate mood.
And then there’s the finale. Oh, dear reader, you must watch this movie if for no other reason than to behold the final ten minutes. We get Fraser rampaging in red body paint. We get explosions from what must be the most electrically active house in the history of architecture. We get all manner of spectacle that doesn’t make a lick of damn sense, but I guarantee you won’t be able to look away.
So, in conclusion, I frankly have no conclusion. There are a lot of inexplicable decisions made by everyone involved with this movie, and it’s a big old mess. But I also find myself compelled to watch it again, and this is where you come in. I’m dead serious when I say I need you to watch this movie, and in order to facilitate this request I’m going to host a live tweet-along on Wednesday, April 11th at 8:00pm EST. I can’t say what you’ll get out of the experience, but suffice to say it will promote discussion. So, if you can make it, please take the time, if for no other reason than to help me keep my own sanity intact.