The Passion of Darkly Noon [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray A - America - Arrow Films
Review written by and copyright: Robert Segedy (8th April 2020).
The Film

This film is tricky to say the least. It comes across as a mix of adult fairy tale, allegory, and fantasy/horror film, but ultimately, it cannot decide on what it wants to be and that is the problem. As far as the various reviews that I read online, the great majority of critics did not like or enjoy the film, but then, that was them and this is me writing this. I have mixed feelings about the film and even though it has been several days since I watched it, it keeps resurfacing in my memory like a floating corpse. I don't mean that in a disturbing way; it just seemed like the appropriate metaphor to use. Some films effect you immediately. Others take their time, perhaps requiring multiple viewings until the filmmaker’s message is clear. "The Passion of Darkly Noon" is from that latter group.

We begin with the image of a man in a suit wandering through the forest; apparently, he is lost and possibly ill. His clothing torn, his eyes are unfocused, he is a wanderer far from the familiar path. The man’s age is undetermined, but he seems young. He is moving swiftly, in a daze, downhill, stumbling along the way. The camera shows a truck moving swiftly; the driver is distracted as well. He is moving at a dangerous rate of speed down unpaved roads. The wanderer collapses and falls in the road moments before the truck stops, barely missing him. The man driving the truck gets out and examines the fallen man and decides that he needs medical attention. The wander is laid out in the back of the truck like a Christ like figure, arms stretched out. The truck driver is Jude (Loren Dean) and he is picking up finished coffins that were hand made by Clay (Viggo Mortensen), a mute man that lives with his girlfriend Callie (Ashley Judd) in the woods. Callie tells Jude that Clay is away on one of his long walks and that the man can stay there until he comes around. Callie removes the unconscious man’s suit and finds in his pocket a bible with his name written inside: "Darkly Noon" (Brendan Frazer). Now if you are thinking, that’s a strange name, you are correct. His parents selected his name from a passage in the bible with a pin: 1 Corinthians 13: "Now we see through a glass, darkly...". It seems that Noon’s parents belonged to an ultraconservative Christian cult and that they were slain in an ambush from nearby residents. If you are recalling the Branch Davidians and their fiery demise in Waco, Texas in 1993, you would be correct. And thus, hangs our tale.

Noon is a conflicted fellow; on one hand, he is confronted by the highly sensual Callie, who seems to ooze sexuality, but those feelings clash with his upbringing and the way of life his parents drilled into him. When Clay returns from his sojourn in the woods, Noon is overwhelmed with jealousy. He is akin to a newborn baby: initially innocent but burdened by the stirrings in his loins; he is torn between the teachings of scripture and the delights of the flesh embodied by Callie. Noon secretly spies on the couple as they passionately embrace and make love. It is more than apparent that Noon is struggling with many feelings. Jude confronts Noon one day and tells him that his secret is apparent; he says “Callie loves Clay. She always has, from the first time that she laid eyes on him.” Noon denies the allegations against him, but it is very clear that Noon is smitten and that he does not know what to do. This is clearly a case of having an excruciating itch that you cannot reach, but worse because it is obviously Noon’s first encounter with the emotion called love. Things are on a slow boil as Clay and Noon work side by side building coffins. The situation is made even more intense because Clay does not have the capacity for speech; he whistles and makes some clicking noises with his mouth, but Noon’s questions go unanswered. In some ways this reminded me of the pattern established in various Film Noir films. In "The Postman Always Rings Twice" (1946) the results are homicidal as Cora Smith (Lana Turner) falls for Frank Chambers (John Garfield), a transient that is passing through and stumbles into The Twin Oaks roadside restaurant ran by Cora’s husband Nick Smith (Cecil Kellaway); the duo struggle with their instant attraction to each other and eventually they scheme to kill Nick and get him out of the way. Sexual obsession usually leads to a lethal dance where two is a crowd and three spells murder except that Noon is slightly more complicated than a horny young man with an unrequited crush on an attractive woman. There is a scene that comes straight out of Flannery O’Connor as Noon watches from his bedroom in the barn as the couple make love; he painfully binds his torso with barbed wire, the razored barbs digging their way into his flesh. Is he trying to forget the pleasures of the flesh or is he literally acting out in a biblical manner?

Around this time an unseen visitor in the wood’s peppers the house with shotgun blasts, clearly aiming for Callie. Callie, not to be intimated, rushes in the house and returns with Clay’s rifle and fires back. Callie doesn’t want to talk about the incident, and she walks away from Noon. Meanwhile Noon takes to wandering in the woods. There is an interesting scene where Callie leads Noon to an underground cavern; there is prehistoric drawings on the walls and Callie points out a bloody handprint that has managed to stay fresh looking. “Despite time, that declares that he was here and that he was someone.”

One day while walking alone, Noon encounters an odd woman that lives with her dog in a Winnebago in the woods. It is revealed that her name is Roxie (Grace Zabriskie) and her story is somewhat like Noon’s. Roxie turns out to be the unknown assailant with the shotgun, and after Noon visits her several times, Roxy tells her story. According to Roxie, Callie is a witch. Not only did Callie kill her husband after seducing him, but Callie also manages to steal her son away as well. Yes, shocker! Clay is Roxie’s son! Callie is a harborer from the depths of hell itself. After her dog dies, Roxie stages a Viking like funeral for it. Placed in a large floating boat resembling a sneaker, she sets it alight and it burns while the two of them watch from the shore. This is certainly a striking visual.

I must mention the production details so far. Ridley, made his debut with a striking horror film entitled "The Reflecting Skin" (1990); a portrait of an isolated life on the plains somewhere in America in the 1950’s. A series of children are mysteriously murdered and the protagonist Seth Dove (Jeremy Cooper) suspects a widower that lives nearby. This film is more linear in its plot, but still displays plenty of talent from writer/director Philip Ridley. Striking compositions, beautiful outdoor scenes, and an interesting soundtrack propel this film into cult film territory. In "The Passion of Darkly Noon" Ridley demonstrates that he wasn’t a one-shot wonder as he composes scene after scene with a buttery yellow light that really has a haunting effect after a while. Filmed on location in the Black Forest in Germany (standing in for the mountains of North Carolina) Riley seems to be channeling several distinct filmmakers such as Luis Buńuel, Dario Argento, and Robert Aldrich, as he pays homage to them with scenes that mirror their work. Ghosts, both real and imagined, populate the film and Noon is troubled by his visions. Very much like a beleaguered character out of the Old Testament, Noon struggles to come to term with his emotions and to make a stand for his denied love. In a wild scene, Noon, wrapped in barbed wire, crashes through a kitchen window, carrying a large awl like an instrument of death. As the house is quickly consumed in flames, Jude comes to pick up Noon and acts, shooting the star-crossed lover in the chest, killing him. The ending is somewhat of an anti-climax as the entire house is engulfed in flames; the next morning Callie surveys the scene and says that “there’s nothing left.” In a strange and feeling forced, a family walks out of the forest, including an elephant, and he tells Callie that they lost their boat and that they were forced to wander. The remaining bedraggled group limps off down the road.

Video

Presented in widescreen 2.35:1 HD 1080p 24/fps and mastered using AVC MPEG-4 compression, Arrow Video as usual, has done a splendid job of presenting this film. Brand new 2k restoration from the original camera negative, approved by Philip Ridley. The color is outstanding with many of the outdoor scenes positively glowing. Blacks are strong and bold, no damage done to the print quality.

Audio

Two audio options are available in either English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround or English LPCM 2.0 stereo. Composer Nick Bicât has created a stirring soundtrack with plenty of percussion included to score the film. Surround sound is active with all dialogue being clearly defined by the center track. English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing.

Extras

Arrow has included a new audio commentary by writer/director Philip Ridley, worth checking out for super fans of the film.

Next up is an isolated score that includes never-before-heard extended and unused cues, and the two songs from the film (in LPCM 2.0 stereo).

"Sharp Cuts" (16:08) is an interview with editor Leslie Healey.

"Forest Songs" (19:43) is an interview with the film's composer Nick Bicât, newly recorded for this release.

"Dreaming Darkly" (16:14) is an archive featurette from 2015 featuring interviews with writer/director Philip Ridley, composer Nick Bicât, and star Viggo Mortensen.

"American Dreams" (20:43) is an interview with writer/director Philip Ridley.

"Eyes of Fire" (22:14) is an interview with cinematographer John de Borman.

Next up are a collection of previously unreleased demos of the music score:

- "Callie #1" (5:57)
- "Darkly" (11:54)
- "Callie #2" (5:08)

The film's original theatrical trailer (2:48) is included and rounding out the extras is an image gallery (0:58).

Packaging

Packaged in a clear Blu-ray keep case with a reversible sleeve featuring new and original artwork.

Overall

An unusual film that will either hook the viewer with its larger than life characters and simplistic storyline or the typical unadventurous viewer will quickly dismiss this as schlock. It is your call: do you dare take the challenge or is there something more rewarding awaiting you?

The Film: B+ Video: A Audio: A Extras: A Overall: A-

 


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