Review: 'The Dark Room'
By: Kira Kim
The Darkroom was the first ever student-produced film to be shown for the On The Rocks festival. I was intrigued after reading the introductory note in the programme, and I went to the venue brimming with curiosity. The film turned out to be experimental and seemed professionally made, marking a watershed moment in the development of film-making by students in St Andrews. I got the impression that everyone was in awe of the content and quality of the film, as well as the skill of the production team.
In relation to the plot, the protagonist John suffers from an uneventful life as a photographer, and we got a sense of his depressed mood throughout the film. Sadly, his closest friend is his camera, and it challenges him to confront his biggest fears. The film was made with a black-and-white filter, and this helped set the scene from the very beginning, emphasising the setting of the darkroom both literally and metaphorically. In the darkness, John’s solitary presence became more apparent and symbolically helped represent the bleakness of his life.
The film was unique in the sense that it created a dialogue between John and the camera, deliberately personifying the latter as a conscious moral agent. This was not obvious from the start of the film, but was slowly unveiled when the camera grew to develop its own voice, shadow, and figure. The actress who played the role of the camera was superb. Her emotions could be heard in her voice alone, and she both manipulated and shaped the personality of the camera as an object/subject who was sympathetic, but also critical of John’s choices and the life he has chosen to lead.
The cinematography was brilliant in every way from one scene to the next. Various techniques were used to maintain the film’s intensity. Perception was a big theme, and was experimented with by the use of the camera, which was a speculative observer for the most part but, at moments, also reflected the figures that were captured in the photographs processed in the darkroom. The use of zoomed-in and zoomed-out shots were used selectively: the one scene that captivated me was when John was bombarded with questions and statements made by a mysterious figure walking in the darkness, who began to circle John as he stood hopelessly in the centre of the screen, illuminated just by a spotlight. The sense of interrogation, and the culmination of John’s emotional intensity, was portrayed well here.
Not only did the film touch upon questions we may face in our own lives, but it delivered them with a certain reflectiveness which placed us as the ‘third observer’ outside the screen. I would like to pass my congratulations on to everyone who contributed to the making of the production: The Darkroom really did surpass my expectations.