Fantasia 2017: Darkland
Fenar Ahmad’s Underverden (Darkland) is a film that oozes style. Much in the vein of Nicolas Winding Refn’s neon-infused revenge thriller Drive, Darkland pulses with a dark violent energy. It’s a film spliced by the visual dichotomy of slickly shot action scenes – set-pieces ranging from bank heists to shootouts to brutal brawls – and these beats’ often gruesome consequences (one scene involves a failed eye-gouging attempt that left a character’s ocular blood vessel in shambles and my stomach in knots). Some of these scenes are utterly extraordinary, not so much for their technical finesse, but rather for their raw, animalistic energy. Punches land with what feels like extraordinary weight and bullets bark like hellhounds.
Zaid, a surgeon in Copenhagen, is called on by his brother who is still mired in a life of crime. When Zaid refuses to help him, blotting out his brother’s pleas, saying this is the last straw, surprise, surprise, the brother ends up dying. Zaid ends up going on a quest for revenge, donning a bulletproof vest, jet-black motorcycle helmet, and a handgun to take on the people responsible. It’s a fairly clichéd story and, though the film shows flashes of ambition touching on the struggles of the immigrant experience in Denmark, the film fails to really tread any new ground. But, boy oh boy does it know how to tread the ground on which it walks.
What the film lacks in new ideas, it more than makes up for in execution and sheer talent. Dar Salim, who plays the central character: Zaid, is an imposing figure, rippling with muscles and a screen-presence that chews up entire scenes. It helps that he does a wonderful job of bringing a great deal of pathos to the character which takes the edge off of the film’s more clichéd moments – he sells the hell out of a scene later on in the film when unable to visit a hospitalized loved one, he mournfully gazes through the dinghy window. He also holds his on in scenes that call for a more brutal kind of physicality, pummeling, flipping, twisting, and falling with all of the visceral immediacies of Matt Damon in the (good) Bourne films. It’s genuinely impressive work. The supporting cast is similarly solid, especially Stine Fischer Christensen – who plays his wife: Stine.
Darkland may not quite reach the heights of its inspirations for which it so dearly strives and it may awkwardly and half-heartedly engage with a topic – the struggles of the immigrant experience in modern Europe – that desperately deserves far more attention, but its action is so immediate, its central character so engaging, and its music (pulsing 80s-ish techno) so fitting, that it’s hard not to recommend this film. This is one of the very best films I have seen from Fantasia International Film Festival this year and it should most definitely be on your radar.