Out Of Darkness Review: A shining light in prehistoric horror

Out Of Darkness Review: A shining light in prehistoric horror

Andrew Cumming’s feature debut, Out of Darkness, delves into prehistoric horror with sharp brutality.

Set 45,000 years ago, Out of Darkness follows a small tribe’s journey into an unknown and dangerous new territory; exploring themes of survival, storytelling, and the primal instincts of humanity.

The movie opens with a sage advisor telling a group of early human settlers a campfire story about a fearless hero who against all odds has taken his family from a desolate and desperate homeland to give them a better life in a land of milk and honey. It’s clear he is telling their story, framing it through the lens of a hero’s noble quest to protect and support his family with a forgone conclusion of success.

Ascribing each of the group a role in the story, this tribe of early human settlers is led by Adem (Chuku Modu), who has taken his mate, his brother, his advisor and his heir across the water to head west in search of a new and better life. They are accompanied by a stray, Beyah (Safia Oakley-Green’s Beyah) who has no social standing – an unwanted tagalong whose purpose is to bend to the will of Adem.

When the troupe arrives in the promised land, they find it harsh, dangerous and unforgiving. Far from being the prophesised paradise they expected, hungry and doubtful of their survival, the tribe are haunted and hunted by threats both real and imagined. Never knowing which is which, their primal fears of the dark, of the other, of the unknown start to take over, and the tribe’s shaky hierarchy starts to crumble.

In the wake of a ferocious attack, the characters begin to redefine their roles within the tribe, changing the narrative of their own literal story that they have been telling themselves. Beyah recognises the shift and eschews her ascribed role as a spare part to the central figure in the ongoing narrative. But whereas the rest of the tribe resign themselves to the fate their identity constrains them to, the pragmatic Beyah is less driven by the purpose given to her by others than by her own primitive need to survive.

Despite its prehistoric setting, there is something of the wild west/frontier narrative at play. Initially dominated with alpha males righteously colonising a new land, the thematic and tonal shift to a survival horror uncovers a deliberately didactic throughline, examining the blurred line between humanity and its often monstrous primal nature.

The entire movie is subtitled, with the actors and director fully committing to the use of a brand new, unique, fictional language. What could have been a risky gimmick adds renewed depth to the immersive experience the film offers, genuinely transporting you into the past.

The film looks stunning and credit must go to cinematographer Ben Fordesman, who repeats his stellar work from Saint Maud to bring an underlying stark terror to what should be calming, picturesque landscapes. Director Andrew Cumming works hard to build tension and rides a wave of satisfying jump scares, but the real horror comes from something deeper and that is the movie’s secret weapon that Cumming is restrained enough to keep in his back pocket until the optimum moment.

Out of Darkness strips back the gaudyness of popcorn prehistorical survival horrors like 65 to deliver something far more introspective. Its self-analysis of the stories we tell ourselves gives the movie an unexpected depth and although it struggles at times to manage the tension it so desperately wants to maintain, Cumming’s ability to reframe villains as heroes through a gently shifting perspective transcends Out of Darkness into a truly evolved horror.

Signature Entertainment presents Out of Darkness only in cinemas 23 February