War, romance, rebellion, family: Into the Darkness has it all. As is always the case, however, too much of anything can be a bad thing. T.J. Davies reviews.
Into the Darkness examines the choices Industrialist Karl Skov (Jesper Christensen) and his family make as Nazi Germany occupy Denmark following the outbreak of World War II. As the war progresses and the Nazi’s influence in the country grows, the many members and friends of the affluent family find themselves on different and dangerous moral paths. Set against the stunning backdrop of Denmark’s towns and country, the terrible effects of the Nazi occupation in this neutral country come to light.
It may be yet another period drama about the morality of choice during the war, but it’s not addressed from the usual British or American lens. Rather, it comes from a nation caught in-between and unsure about what exactly is right. “Can democracy work in an occupied country?” one character asks early on. “It’s a good question” is all another can reply. You don’t need to hold the question for long—it’s asked over and over again as the periods of 1940, 1941, 1942 and 1943 pass.
From the get-go, Into the Darkness establishes itself as a family drama in the midst of war. As a family and guests serenade Mr and Mrs Skov, Nazi planes literally rain leaflets down on their parade that state: Denmark’s invaded. Aside from an immediate panic from the non-Danish guests, life goes on. The Skov family are the focus, comprising of two parents, five children, a housekeeper and her son, various members of staff and a steady stream of guests turning up for soirees and salons. Nazis or not, with that many people there was always going to be friction.
With this roster of characters, there are a variety of personalities and storylines to follow that include romance, rebellion, espionage, politics and a fair bit of war. Moving in the dim trenches of morality, the characters become dirtier as they trudge along on what they think is the right path. The performances of the Spartacus-number of actors are true and evocative. Jesper Christensen masters the “I’m in a quandary” face. The younger cast members capture the anxiety that accompanies their already tumultuous age. Mads Reuther, in particular, delivers an excellent performance as the coming-of-age angsty son.
The cinematography is the finest aspect of the movie, in no small part thanks to the beautiful Danish landscape. The North sea glistens at the bottom of the family’s 19th-century manor. Snowy hillsides meet the yellow stonework of dazzling town squares. Luminescent jazz clubs greet the thriving floors of factories. Colours pop inside and out. Helene’s red hair fights against the vibrant greens of trees and the royal blues of her dress. It makes you want to be there, minus the war of course.
From a more technical standpoint, the widescreen panning of the camera works with the narrative. The screen fills up with a character’s face as they make decisive choices or fades away to include many. The former intensifies the effect choice has on an individual. The latter quantifies the effect individual choices have on others. Either way, action and consequence is the focal point. The neon-lit ‘Stardust’ jazz club breaks up serious exchanges between older characters in bursting intervals. The young characters drink, laugh and flirt with one another between dances. Thomas ‘Thousand Toots’ delivers screaming trumpet solos. A reoccurring theme, the inclusion of jazz is an injection of youth in a movie that could have fallen back on ruminative, classical sounds. It doesn’t. It shouts carefree innocence and doesn’t play when the adults are around.
Co-writer and director Anders Refn, a frequent collaborator of Lars Von Trier (assistant director of Dancer in the Dark, Dogville , Melancholia and Nymphomaniac), said that the movies produced in Denmark “barely touched on the violent and painful conflicts that resulted from the transformation our democracy underwent in the face of occupation.” With this in mind, it seems that the intention to address moral difficulties as other movies on the subject had failed to do was the goal to the detriment of everything else. With so many plot strings lying around, the best stories stumble over the lesser ones.
There is a sequel planned for release in 2022, with Refn at the helm. This announcement seems to answer why, with the plot still tangled up, the movie ends. It gets into rocky territory when 1940 and ‘41 go on for what feels like the actual length of the years, while ’42 and ‘43 flash by in massive leaps. It was like reading a GCSE history exam where the student spent too long on the first question.
Into the Darkness is a beautiful movie, with interesting characters played by great actors. But for such a promising movie, the story doesn’t deliver, which is extremely disappointing with such potential. It’s almost a great movie. Instead, I’ll wait for a good movie’s sequel.
Into the Darkness releases on digital platforms in the UK and Ireland on 5 March 2021.
Words by T.J. Davies.
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