William Langston is a young man lost in a fog of guilt and grief. His fertile writing career is in the mud and he has returned to the suffocating bosom of his hometown in order to wrap himself in the comfort blanket of his old friends. However, the group dynamic he encounters has become depressingly eroded by the contempt of familiarity.
Emotionally detached, and perpetually self anesthetised on Makers Mark, Wiliam experiences moments of despair that leave his finger hovering over the trigger of a chin cradled shotgun. Tortured by the heartbreaking memories of a past tragedy, he is about to enter the deadly orbit of a seriously sadistic serial killer who will shake the foundations of his self-destructive mindset.
Keene McRae’s debut feature is an ambitious low-fi drama that seeks to embrace elements of the serial killer picture and torture porn without making them feel shoehorned into a delicate narrative. For the most part, it more than succeeds. However, it is the fashion in which these components are gracefully interwoven with the minutiae of small-town mentality that gives Shot in the Dark its sense of identity and originality.
The film works overtime to project the powerful influence retentivity has over the processing of trauma and loss. Drip feeding dream state flashbacks and naturalistic character interactions to build a world for William that is extraordinarily palpable. The music, cinematography, and sound design strive tirelessly to make the viewers’ experience as aggressively tactile as possible.
When it becomes time to unleash the horror aspects it resolves to apply the exact same creative ethos and this fosters a grim intensity of devastating power. Just as the movie is more preoccupied with the subtle sea changes of relationship deterioration than overblown hysterics, it is more concerned with the scrunching of the plastic sheeting on the killing room floor than the swish of the butchery blade.
Horror fans are used to seeing helpless victims duct-taped to a chair and used as a gratification pinata by a deranged psychopath. What is unique here is that we are drawn inside the mind of the victim and the film’s context, texture, and storyline flow from their unfolding memories. It’s a relatively simple, yet gratifying approach to gripping the viewer that pays dividends in terms of empathetic suffering.
We know William has an enervated grasp on his desire to live and as we begin to find out why we also witness the germination of its reformation in the face of aberrant provocation. It’s an intelligent and enigmatically executed concept that skillfully delineates the resurrection of a ruptured survival instinct.
Shot in the Dark was a long time in gestation. The production alone was spread over a period of five years and developed through a pay-as-you-go process that synergised raising funds with shooting footage. Incredibly, this never harms the movie and there are no cracks in the tonal consistency nor narrative flow. In fact, the lengthy realisation actually helps the movie as the cast ages naturally within its complex flashback structure.
The movie isn’t so much edited as tenderly nurtured in a carefully cultured petri dish and is a triumph of story continuity. Every aspect of the movie is geared towards skewing impactful dramatic blows to coexist within the ambiance of reserved naturalism.
Assured, compelling, and ultimately disconcerting Shot in the Dark is a beautifully crafted deconstruction that broods with a calm intelligence rarely found in such a popular subgenre.
Serial Killer Drama| USA, 2021 | 83 mins | Rated 18 | Dir. Keene McRae | With:Kristoffer McMillan, Lane Thomas, Keene McRae, Austin Hébert, Christine Donlon, Jacqueline Toboni, Brandon Sklenar, Kelley Mack