Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Philip Ridley Double Bill: The Passion of Darkly Noon (1995)

“It’s time for my walk in the dark.”

Image: Seville Pictures

While The Reflecting Skin keeps a certain distance from its subjects, The Passion of Darkly Noon has a similar Gothic fairy-tale feel but gets right up close for a sweaty, lurid, darkly comic look at the titular character’s mental disintegration.

In the middle of a vast forest in the American south, Darkly Noon (Brendan Fraser) stumbles into the road and is found by Jude (Loren Dean), who drives him to a small house owned by beautiful outcast Callie (Ashley Judd). Darkly explains that he barely escaped with his life when the religious commune he lived in was attacked. She takes him in but the puritanical Darkly struggles to control the urges the beautiful, free-spirited Callie provokes in him. When her partner Clay (Viggo Mortensen again) returns, Darkly’s psyche starts to fracture.

While the basic structure is more generic than in Ridley’s previous film, The Passion of Darkly Noon is still a bizarre, layered, atmospheric piece of work. The forest becomes less idyllic and increasingly claustrophobic as the film progresses and Darkly’s behaviour becomes increasingly erratic. We’re never given any reason to disbelieve his story about where he’s come from so it’s difficult not to feel for him as he starts to collapse. The casting of the likeable (pre-fame) Fraser helps in this regard and he gives a surprisingly effective performance. Darkly starts off as twitchy but good-hearted only to show that he’s unable to cope with Callie’s sexuality. On the other hand, Callie makes it clear that she has no interest in Darkly as a sexual partner and while she doesn’t alter the way she dresses or behaves she wants to provide him with a loving environment. Despite their best intentions, their incompatibility makes a violent confrontation inevitable.

The David Lynch influence is slightly more pronounced here, in part due to the endless, forbidding trees and the presence of Grace Zabriskie as an eccentric hermit who plays a key part in Darkly’s third act revelation. With shots of a giant silver boot floating down a stream and Darkly’s increasingly bloody attempts to keep his urges under control, it’s more flamboyant and slightly sillier than its predecessor. But, with title cards keeping track of the days and the increasingly intrusive camera-work and editing, Ridley’s second film is an atmospheric, tense character study and it’s tremendously entertaining.

Both in the notes given out before the films and the Q&A afterwards (during which Ridley was joined by composer Nick Bicât), it was explained that both The Reflecting Skin and The Passion of Darkly Noon are specifically a London boy’s vision of America rather than an attempt at a realistic depiction. Both films feature gorgeous, seemingly endless landscapes that act as prisons for their characters. Classic Americana clashes with sex and violence, and the idea of the supernatural is a welcome alternative to the harsh reality. This world is beautiful, strange and dangerous. It was a treat to see them on a big screen and they deserve proper restoration.



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