British directors Will Sharpe and Tom Kingsley’s follow-up to their BAFTA-nominated Black Pond (2014) is called The Darkest Universe, a complex and dark drama about relations between partners and family, bickering and the impossibility of communication. The two young directors (Kingsley is 30 and Sharpe is just 29) created a charming tale with an elegant and creative photography set in the canals of London and beyond.
The film follows the young banker Zac (played by the film director Sharpe) on his search for his eccentric sister Alice (Tiani Ghosh), who goes missing on a narrowboat with her new boyfriend Toby (Joe Thomas). Two narratives run in tandem: the arguing and family disintegration that led to Alice’s disappearance and its aftermath. Alice is a irresponsible and invasive person, who does not care to work or look after the space where she dwells – in stark contrast to her diligent and meticulous brother. The strained relationship between the siblings also takes its toll on Zac’s partner Eva, and their relationship begins to break down. The prospect of restoring family harmony is dark and narrow, just like the boat tunnels on the London canals.
A resentful Zac drives throughout the UK in the hope of reuniting with his sister, going as far as Pontcysyllte Aqueduct in North Wales. He leaves search posters and flyers wherever he goes, and he even sets up the website www.FindAlice.com where he posts videos about the latest developments of his seemingly vain endeavour.
The photography of the film is hypnotic. Images of moving water fuse with cloud, and the photography elegantly fading in and out, contrasting nature against urban landscapes. The lighting is gentle and soothing, mixing natural light, red tones, strobe and trivial elements such a lava lamp and a shiny yellow beer to great results, sometimes borderline surreal. A somber soundtrack created at the Hermitage Works Studio is a suitable backdrop to this exquisite cinematographic ballet.
The futility of searching for someone who does not want to be found is the guiding force of The Darkest Universe. Zac is seeking reconciliation and forgiveness from his sister and her partner, but the forces of nature and of time gradually abate and dilute his efforts. At the beginning of the movie Zac cried out to the police: “a boat just does not vanish into thin air, it’s impossible”, but this impossibility seems increasingly likely towards the end of the film. The final disclosure is humbling and sobering, as is most of the movie.
A profound reflection and meditation on human emotions and fallacies combined with rich imagery and music make The Darkest Universe a powerful and engaging experience throughout its 86 minutes, and the movie is never pretentious.
The Darkest Universe is showing on Saturday April 30th as part of 5th LOCO The London Comedy Film Festival. Despite some subtle humorous elements, the film is not a comedy and it is unlikely to elicit much laughter. Click here for more information about the event and watch the film trailer below: