“When will you kill me, Daddy?”

Despite playing at a horror festival, it’s hard to describe Darkness as a horror film. Directed by Emanuela Rossi and playing at this year’s Final Girls Berlin Film Festival, a lot of the horror in Darkness rises from the implications of the disconcerting, male-dominated landscape Rossi presents, resulting in a drama whose message is very clear.

Darkness follows three young sisters – Stella (Denise Tantucci), Luce (Gaia Bocci) and Aria (Olimpia Tosatto) – as they grow up inside their boarded-up home. Told by their father (Valerio Binasco) that an apocalypse is ravaging the world, and that only men are allowed out, it feels reminiscent to the claustrophobia of a film like 3096 Days – where female repression at the hands of a man is equally present.

The film opens in such an ambiguous manner – throwing us into the girls’ daily life without much explanation – yet this isn’t necessarily the most successful choice. For a film that runs at just over 100 minutes, it feels a lot longer: Rossi spends a lot of time on the first act, establishing this supposedly ravaged world and the desolate lives the sisters live, but it’s just a tad too slow to begin with. The characters are certainly endearing enough: the sisters are admirable for their unwavering innocence, even in the face of a father whose mistreatment ranges from physical to bordering on sexual. It’s at times hard to watch, as their father screams in their faces and clearly crumbles when his control is threatened, with the film providing a neat allegory for the suffocating grasp that patriarchy holds over our society.

Yet the film certainly makes up for a slightly slow first half-hour by opening the world up massively later on. I won’t spoil what happens here, but if you’ve seen The Village you’ll be able to see this coming; a plot development that feels very confidently executed and bursts open the floodgates of ideas and concepts to be explored. It shows how deceptive, but powerful, familial trust can be, at is times both uplifting but also distinctly sad – in anything, just in seeing how unprepared these girls are for the real world. Darkness absolutely films like a film of two very distinct halves, with both aiming for different things – and perhaps without the slow first half, the payoff wouldn’t be as satisfying.

And most of all, even when the pacing drags, Darkness feels brilliantly written. Penned by Rossi and Claudio Corbucci, the script is taut and brimming with thematic depth and social commentary, with meticulous plotting and dialogue that’s equally gripping.

The message of Darkness is very clear: that patriarchy utterly oppresses women, treating them like children, and while not everything works here, it’s a film that subverts expectations and makes a really important comment while it does it. It’s no horror, but the implications of Darkness are undeniably frightening.

★★★

Darkness was screened at Final Girls Berlin Film Festival 2021. You can find their website here.