Film Review: From Black
Director: Thomas Marchese
Steaming on Shudder: 04.28
Horror platform Shudder’s newest direct-to-streaming release, From Black, approaches the well-trodden territory of a grief-stricken mother going to great lengths to recover a lost loved one. The result is a stale rehash of several clichés interspersed with decent makeup and special effects work. It ultimately falls short of doing anything new or particularly interesting with the genre.
Recovering addict Cora (Anna Camp) never fully got over her pain after her young son went missing years ago while she was on a drug-fueled bender. When a man approaches her offering a ritual providing a way to see her son again, the incredulous Cora takes the opportunity without too much second thought.
To the credit of writer Jessub Flower and writer-director Thomas Marchese, From Black doesn’t use Cora’s addiction as a crutch. Many films would have taken the bait of focusing on a character’s struggle with substance abuse as a crucial narrative conflict, the temptation to use competing with the desire to see a loved one again. Cora has ostensibly been clean for years and doesn’t appear to struggle much with the specter of relapse. She put those demons to bed a long time ago and replaced them with the anguish of a grieving mother who doesn’t know the fate of her lost son.
With salt circles, flickering candles, disembodied whispers and a leatherbound book filled with strange glyphs and incantations (all sound familiar?), the ritual itself is the film’s centerpiece. But, because the rules of the glorified seance are ill-defined, so are the stakes surrounding it. At first we don’t learn that the ritual takes place over several sessions and a number of days, so each session’s eventual “climax”—a word I use generously—leaves the viewer unsure of what to expect. The ceremony does escalate but stops short of driving the plot forward until about an hour into the film.
Once the black sacrament does reach its inevitable climax, the preamble up to that point cheapens the moment. Instead of dispersing the ceremony over several different sessions, the film would have benefitted from it being one, grandiose affair full of disembodied voices, gore and levitating bodies—the best parts of better films like Insidious and The Exorcist.
The film is shot and lit as tepidly as the plot is executed. Darkness typically serves to build tension in horror movies, but in From Black, it’s more of a nuisance that conceals some of the more compelling elements on-screen, such as a character vomiting up bones or a monstrous entity lurking in the background.
From Black is about as paint-by-numbers as a supernatural horror flick can get. There’s nothing outright bad in the movie, but it fails to take any risks or explore familiar territory from different angles. From Black is better off lurking in the dark fringes of Shudder’s catalog rather than being brought to the light of your television screen. –Brandon Ermer
Read more reviews of horror films:
Film Review: M3GAN
Film Review: Scream VI
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