‘Out of Darkness’ Attempts To Make Our Ancient Ancestors as Up-to-Date as Possible

The Paleolithic age is wonderous under the lens of director of photography Ben Fordesman, who transforms the Scottish Highlands into a Stone Age dreamscape with a suppleness worthy of Caravaggio.

Via Bleecker Street
Safia-Oakley Green in 'Out of Darkness.' Via Bleecker Street

Etymologists curious about the point of origination for curse words, particularly the epithet known to polite society as “the F-bomb,” will want to see “Out of Darkness,” director Andrew Cumming’s feature film debut. The introductory title card informs us that the events about to transpire took place 45,000 years ago. At a moment of high tension not long thereafter, the oldest of the picture’s cadre of Paleolithic characters lets fly with the aforementioned four-letter word.

At least, that’s how it is transcribed in the movie’s subtitles. What kind of speech, you might wonder, is at the center of “Out of Darkness”? Mr. Cumming, having fretted that “people are just going to think this is nuts” should our distant forebears be seen speaking the King’s English, asked poet and historian Daniel Andersson to confabulate The Original Language. A grab-bag of Arabic and Basque, TOLA is the means by which our wandering group of cave people communicate. 

The director and his crew also conferred with Rob Dinnis, a professor of archeology at the University of Aberdeen, Scotland. Dr. Dinnis was the co-author, along with Chris Stringer, of “Britain: One Million Years of Human History” (2014), a book that corresponded with an exhibition at London’s Natural History Museum. “The view of primitive, club-wielding cavemen … has been rejected in  scientific circles for many years now.” Mr. Cumming was intent on making our out-of-date forebears as up-to-date as possible.

We are, then, far afield from Raquel Welch and her animal-skin bikini made famous in “One Million Years B.C.” (1966) and other entertainments predicated on misapplied notions. Given the vagaries of historical research, it’s a good bet that some of the conclusions reached by Messrs. Dinnis and Stringer have since been overturned or amended. Still and all, their expertise brings a gritty naturalism to “Out of Darkness” — which is, as it turns out, a nifty entertainment.

Chuku Modu and Kit Young in ‘Out of Darkness.’ Via Bleecker Street

The plot is elemental. A group of men and women are searching for shelter and food, necessities that they’ve been without for some time. Ave (Iola Evans) is pregnant and in desperate need of nourishment. She’s carrying the baby of Adem (Chuku Modu), who already has a child, Heron (Luna Mwezi). Adem’s younger brother Geirr (Kit Young) accompanies the clan, as do two outliers: Odal (Arno Lüning), the oldest of the bunch, and Beyah (Safia Oakley-Green), a “stray” picked up along the trail.

Complications arise. If the lack of game and edible flora is problematic, it’s nothing compared to a presence located within the darkened woods, a shrieking entity whose encounters with the group prove, to put it gently, decisive. When Heron is snatched from the clutches of the night, Adem charges into the woods on a rescue mission. Odal suggests that the demons in the forest require a sacrifice to allow safe passage. Other sacrifices, most of them extreme, follow suit.

“Out of Darkness” is being sold as a horror movie. If your marker for such a designation is things that go bump in the night and a director who cites “Alien” (1979) as an inspiration, then that’s what’s on the docket. Yet the situations, trepidations, and comeuppances experienced by the characters in the film seem, in the end, less monstrous than eminently reasonable for a film about a species doing its best to navigate a strange, dangerous, and wondrous world.

And wondrous the Paleolithic age definitely is, particularly under the lens of director of photography Ben Fordesman, who transforms the Scottish Highlands into a Stone Age dreamscape with a suppleness worthy of Caravaggio. Sound designer Paul Davies elaborates on the ambience of the natural world with preternatural concision. As for Mr. Cumming: He navigates through the abiding artifices of cinema as if it were a second skin. “Out of Darkness” is a sleeper.

The New York Sun

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