Dark Encounter (2019) – Film Review

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Director: Carl Strathie
Cast: Laura Fraser, Sid Phoenix, Grant Masters
Certificate: 15

By Roger Crow

It’s the 1980s in small town America. A tap is running. A family comes home, but from that point on, their lives will never be the same. Their little girl is missing, and despite many searches and police investigations, she’s nowhere to be found.

Writer/director Carl Strathie proved he could make a nail-biting thriller with Solis a couple of years ago, and as much of a fan as I was of that one-man drama, I did wonder if he could work the same magic again.

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“Small budget goes a long way”

An astronaut tumbling through space was one thing. A well-rounded family in crisis drama set in the States was another. The fact it was filmed in Yorkshire only added to the problems. But it’s a critic’s job not to care about the behind-the-camera logistics of how it was put together. The big question is: does it work? Well, thankfully yes.

While the first two thirds sees his cast dealing with the disappearance and responding to strange lights in the sky, Strathie’s master stroke is the third act when all the pieces of the puzzle come together. I did wonder if this would be all style and no substance; just a homage to classics like Close Encounters and Poltergeist, with a touch of Stranger Things. And while they might be inspirations, the pay off when it comes is superb.

Working with genius cinematographer Bart Sienkewicz again and composer David Stone Hamilton, Carl knows how to make a small budget go a long way. Dark Encounter might have cost the same as the loose change you’ll find buried down Spielberg’s sofa, but it looks like a quality movie made for 50 times the budget.

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“Extraordinary visuals”

The effects by York’s own Viridian FX are rather special, and minimal in the right places. Unlike Signs, which also relied on a lot of in-camera trickery, this doesn’t feel like a cop out when the strangers at the heart of the drama appear. It feels genuinely weird and otherworldly.

Arguably the star of the show is Laura Fraser, who is a great actress anyway. But her responses to strange goings on are wonderful. As Ad Astra proves, too much dialogue in the face of extraordinary visuals can hamper a movie, and here the balance is just right.

And it’s also the little touches that stay in the mind. During my set visit, the producer was researching an in-camera effect that didn’t make much sense at the time. As someone who’s seen almost every trick in the book, when I see it in context, the result is stunning.

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“Best British sci-fi of the year”

For decades CGI has been one of the most overused tools in the film maker’s box, so it’s great to see directors like Chris Nolan and Carl Strathie resorting to more practical, realistic solutions to incredible visuals. And the fact this finale felt more satisfying than Nolan’s Interstellar (possibly also an inspiration) is another feather in Dark Encounter’s cap.

For my money, it’s the best British sci-fi of the year. The fact I’m still thinking about it two weeks after that first screening is proof of how well it works.

With film three now in pre-production, I’m fascinated to see where Strathie and his team go next.

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Dark Encounter is streaming now


  1. David Clarke 20 May, 2021 at 02:42 Reply

    I suspect that the poor reviews come from USA. I found it excellent both in production and entertainment. I found it reminding me a little of David Lynch’s films such as twin peaks etc. The music choice was dramatic but didn’t give or take anything away from the story. I would never have guessed it was a Yorkshire production and being a Barnsley lad I’m pleased to see our kneck of the woods becoming every bit has good as the big spending American productions. Well done!

  2. Martin Gray 31 January, 2021 at 00:08 Reply

    Well, I guessed what had happened to Maisie in the first five minutes. I couldn’t have guessed how it related to all the sci-if strangeness because it made no ruddy sense.

    Wish I could detail my problems, but… spoilers!

  3. Anonymous 27 September, 2020 at 22:24 Reply

    Awful music, completely overpowering and utterly unsubtle, telling us how to feel just in case we’re in any doubt. And it’s so slow, literally, i.e. in slow motion. Acting fine, and good ideas and plot but ruined by the pace and music.

  4. pat o'donnell 16 May, 2020 at 23:29 Reply

    I watched this movie 3 times in a week.I can only say u either buy into it and love it or u have no imagination.Shocked to see this was a UK based movie,actors superb,script excellent,nothing can prepare u for the ending,just watch and enjoy an absolute masterpiece from start to finish

  5. Zaidamay 25 October, 2019 at 03:00 Reply

    Yes I couldn’t agree more, this movie was brilliant, I have never seen such a good science fiction with such a shocking plot twist. This movie has a ridiculous rating of 4.5/10 on imbd even though now the positive reviews out number the bad reviews on the site. This movie is totally underrated and underappreciated. But thanks to you it finally gets the review and rating it deserves.

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