Dark Sense first look review Arrow FrightFest 2019

In Magnus Wake’s Dark Sense, a young clairvoyant races to track down a serial killer and forestall his own foreseen death

After having a vivid vision of the murder of Father Kavanaugh (Ian Hanmore), young Simon Eildon (Corin Edgar Robert) rushes to church to warn the priest, only for a raving, aggressive man (James Robinson) to burst in and kill Kavanaugh as foreseen. Terrified, Simon flees to the vestry, but is unable to lock the door after his attempt to reach the key through telekinesis falls flat, so that the little boy is also injured and traumatised by the hoodie-toting assailant. This prologue to Magnus Wake’s feature debut Dark Sense, expanded from his short film Simon, First And Only (2016), sets out the film’s dynamic as a chronicle of deaths foretold and futures ineluctable. Simon’s clairvoyance enables him to see what is coming, but not to prevent it – and he is unable to use his other, greatly limited powers to shape events around him or to save even himself.

14 years later, the now adult Simon (Shane O’Meara) lives a semi-reclusive life with his terminally ill mother (Shonagh Price), fearful as much of the physical toll that his visions take on his body, as of the impotence that comes with his fragmentary foreknowledge. Yet when he sees a series of imminent brutal murders – including his own, in four days’ time – perpetrated by a man in a hoodie, and when he realises that the police are not interested in his unbelievable stories of crimes that have not yet taken place, he turns to ex-SAS corporal Steve Brennus (Jim Sturgeon) and secret service operative Sonia Chatham (Maggie Bain) to help him execute an elaborate plan as finely tuned as a long con. Yet as Simon’s confidence in his powers grows, his death too comes ever closer.

Adapted from Peter Flannery’s 2012 novel First And Only, Dark Sense has the kind of intricate plotting last seen in Paul McGuigan’s Push (2009), as Simon couples his predictive abilities to his recently acquired skills at database management to devise a multi-player three-dimensional chess game in which he is always several moves ahead of everyone else. The spider-like diagram of notes and clippings and illustrations that Simon pins to the wall of his Edinburgh home is a representation of Geoff Dupuy-Holder and Alistair Rutherford’s ingeniously chaotic screenplay, in which disparate elements are interconnected in unexpected and complex ways, eventually all converging at the moment of Simon’s foreseen, perhaps inevitable demise.

While the story hinges on a supernatural premise, and on blurry flashbacks and flashforwards that confound conventional chronology, what emerges is a buddy pic, as grounded, sceptical, working-class Brennus quickly warms to the charms of his strange employer, recognising the reality of his strange gift. A subplot involving the malevolent machinations of Chatham’s MI5 superior Johns (Sandy Welch), who would twirl his moustache if he had one, unfolds in an over-the-top register that is at odds with the rest of the film – but otherwise, this is a serial killer thriller with a beating, bleeding heart, in which psycho meets psi and the end comes carefully scripted.

Dark Sense was seen and reviewed at Arrow Video FrightFest 2019.