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New Release Review - DEEP DARK (DVD)

A struggling artist has his career revived by a talking hole in the wall of his apartment.


Review by Benjamin Poole (@filmclubchs)

Directed by: Michael Medaglia

Starring: Sean McGrath, Tabor Helton, Monica Graves, Denise Poirier


"Deep Dark has that intangible, idiosyncratic quality that marks it out as a future cult favourite. Deeply original, darkly intelligent, Deep Dark deserves to find and astonish its audience."



The question of where inspiration lives is an enquiry that has worried away at creatives since the beginning of art itself. Where does the artistic urge come from, how can such inspiration be nurtured, and, yikes, what if one day the stimulation disappears altogether? Michael Medaglia’s horror Deep Dark has a few macabre suggestions on the matter. Located in the pseudo-bohemia of concept art exhibitions, its initial satire snarks towards the pretence of that world, but soon darkens to explore the obsessive, all consuming nature of construction and creation. The ancient Greeks personified the source of artistic stimulation as the Muses, a group of dangerous women characterised in visual representation by awesome beauty, but in Deep Dark, a wry indie in the black eyed style of early Coens, our hapless hero finds his particular muse in the grim fist-sized form of a hole in the wall. You see, Hermann (the artist in question, played by Sean McGrath, with the hangdog handsomeness of a young Latino Paul McCartney) is having a tough old time of it. In a series of broad, colourful comedy strokes we see that his profile as a sculptor of hilariously inept mobiles is virtually non-existent, despite his earnest efforts otherwise; in an early signal of this film’s off kilter dedication to detail, we see Hermann present a sculpture of the solar system, which pathetically and pointlessly seethes with dry ice. He has all the motivation, but none of the vision or talent. What’s worse it that Hermann is flat broke, lonely, and even his mother has had enough of his sad little face, forcing him out of the tiny house that they share.
Driven by righteous envy of a rival (Tabor Helton, essaying the sort of nude emperor that we all know actually reigns supreme in the art world), Hermann resolves to impress his local gallery owner (an embittered failed artist, Layla, played by Monica Graves). In a last ditch attempt to encourage inspiration, he does a Goya, locking himself away in a damp, chiaroscuro lit studio apartment on the advice of his successful but shady uncle. And the muse does find Hermann, via a fissure in the sickly wallpaper of the flat. A series of eerie, chthonian sighs draws Hermann to the hole, which magically produces a small marble seemingly made of flesh and bone. Using the weird material in his new sculpture, the resultant art causes a mini frenzy, and goes on to sell for two grand. A lampoon in the vein of Corman’s A Bucket of Blood¸ Deep Dark implies that a victory in the modern art world is always correlated to the money it makes, and Hermann is on the road to success.
As Hermann thrives, so too does his muse achieve further power and sentience, gaining a voice and a murderous sense of entitlement; "How about I make you more mobiles and all you have to do is spend time with me," she whispers in sultry tones (as the voice of the hole, Denise Poirier is incredible, giving insidious credibility to what is essentially a rip in the plaster - her evocative vocals remind me of Kathleen Turner in The Man With Two Brains), sealing the deal with a kiss. Easy enough? Not when the muse demands your upmost attention; if Hermann wants the glory, he has to have the hole, so to speak (and that’s before she starts killing those who would stand in the way). A Faustian trajectory is duly played out, with Hermann’s ascendancy in the art world paralleled by his moral and spiritual decline, but this time honoured structure is used by Deep Dark in a manner that is wholly arresting.
Deep Dark has that intangible, idiosyncratic quality that marks it out as a future cult favourite. In his first feature length production, writer director Michael Medaglia has crafted a fascinating debut. The opening of the film would have us believe that we’re in the territory of quirky comedy, with its cutesy subtitles in the form of gallery plates  commenting on Hermann’s lot (“Hermann Haig, You’ve Been Had, 15’ x 18’,” when Hermann first enters the doomed apartment) but, as the voice in the walls begins to commandeer Hermann, so too do the film’s wider ranging tones become inexorably sucked into the void, and as it blackens towards horror, the contrasting palettes of the film are deftly blended by Medaglia. Fittingly for a film concerned with visual art, Deep Dark is an acutely stylish movie, abounding with sharp and savvy references to the art world (the hole has previously inspired Warhol and Patrick Nagel, the genius behind Duran Duran’s Rio cover), and which benefits from DoP Francisco Bulgarelli giving the film a striking look that belies its smaller budget.
Deeply original, darkly intelligent, like the reception of Hermann’s satanic sculptures, Deep Dark deserves to find and astonish its audience.



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