Out of Darkness: The Ancient ‘Alien’

In a time when life is a literal nightmare, it seems ridiculous to look into the past for primordial terror. The election looms. Covid is on the rise again, rampantly spreading and evolving. And the number of mass shootings in the United States exceeded the number of days in the calendar year again in 2023. Because of the dystopic reality we live in here in 2023, I often find it hard to accept films that go back to a prehistoric age to tell a story. Needless to say, when I went to a screening of Out of Darkness, the movie had a Sisyphean task in earning my attention.

The poster for Out of darkness shows a man exiting a cave that's rounded in a way to make it look like the eye of a creature.

Out of Darkness follows an early group of nomadic humans around 43,000 BC who split from their clans in an effort to scour a new area for better resources. A bit on the idea of a Lewis and Clark expedition, but without a Sacagawea guiding them, and long before cartography. The film opens with an optimistic crew listening to a campfire tale of their leader, Adem’s (Captain Marvel’s Chuku Modu) headstrong defiance to forge west despite his tribe’s unwillingness to venture in that direction. Things quickly change for the group as the cruel, windy seaside plains they’ve attempted to settle bear no crops, forcing them to move on. Morale plummets as the group attests to having seen no game to hunt and discovers that something may actually be hunting them.

Saint Maud’s Ben Fordesman captivates the audience with the cinematography of Out of Darkness, covering the vast emptiness of the roaring plains with a palette of grey to impart harrowing dread on a nearly cosmic scale. The atmosphere and tone add to the fantastic ensemble’s turmoil as they struggle to determine what is picking them off in the dead of night. The emptiness is then replaced with the crowded, suffocating panic when the group enters the woods and senses the creature could be lurking around every tree.

A man standing beside another man in a forest looks frightened as he holds a spear toward the camera

Out of Darkness’ main POV is obtained through The Colour Room’s Safia Oakley-Green. As Beyah, her character is a “stray” that Adem has allowed to accompany them, but her internal role isn’t as clear as the others. Adem’s childbearing partner, Ave (Iola Evans), has a prominent place alongside him, as does his son Heron (Luna Mwezi). The elder Odal seems to possess general knowledge that makes him beneficial. And Geirr (Kit Young), who has eyes for Beyah, provides the group with an extra layer of protection and valuable hunter skills. These characters all seem friendly enough to each other until the sh!t hits the fan when it’s made known that Beyah is there as a tool for whatever the group needs, and most revert to a state of “every man for themselves.”

The fear surrounding that sentiment is exactly what director Andrew Cumming is trying to convey throughout Out of Darkness, taking us back to the dawn of the first homo-sapiens to refute the notion we’ve evolved for the better, or ascertained any kind of new civility since. As the group find themselves divided during a leadership crisis and face a life-and-death moral dilemma, Geirr argues for a more intelligent, levelheaded approach, which contradicts the rest of the group. Governed by their fear and a predilection that nearly everything is supernaturally mystifying, reactionary decisions become a cautionary tale. The writing becomes exceptional in handling these consequential situations, embedding a philosophical argument about the need for differentiating opinions. In one case, our cast would not survive without resorting to their baser instincts. A debate amongst the party ensues, with the brasher side making the best case. But later, the same type of precipitously brazen thinking results in a guilt-ridden mistake they must live with. The resounding effect begs the question of how the survivors of this ordeal will bear the burden of knowing they may be more monstrous than the monster of this tale.

Although the film takes place deep in the past, there’s more than a little Alien influence here. The crew’s initial hopefulness and role identification on their trek west is remarkably reminiscent of the Nostromo in that early galley scene after waking from cryo sleep. Cumming sets up Out of Darkness’ creature stirring in the background in kindred spirit, too. The audience sees only shadowy movements and occasionally questions whether they’ve seen anything at all as the film atmospherically grasps the viewer and works toward revealing the creature. There is also an idea of colonization in both movies derived from traversing the unknown, and the comeuppance of conquest, which makes Out of Darkness feel a little templated around Ridley Scott’s film.

Two people in fur coats are seen holding spears and are out of focus looking toward a distant hillside cave.

Out of Darkness may be making its way to theaters this weekend, but the film may owe a debt of gratitude to another creature from beyond the stars in the success of 2022’s Predator prequel, Prey. Sony optioned Cumming’s paleolithic creature feature for large-scale distribution while the indie was known as The Origin during its festival run in late 2022. The project, which has impressively invented an ancient language based on Arabic and Basque vocabularies, sticks to its guns. Where Prey had decided to film in English after considering a Commanche approach and provided a Commanche dub later, Out of Darkness dares to immerse you more in its world by adding a linguistic approach, marking a bold debut for Andrew Cumming.

Ultimately, I watched Out of Darkness from the edge of my seat. The film is a fast, impactful eighty-seven minutes that barely allows you to catch your breath. It’s relentlessly gripping, occasionally brutal, and powerfully sophisticated. Allegorically, this one viciously resonates with the current climate of our time and makes for a largely enjoyable watch. There will likely be some out there who, like me, aren’t all that into this kind of prehistoric storytelling, and I’m confident It will have its fair share of fans and critics. However, I think Out of Darkness is worth the price of a movie ticket.

Out of Darkness is now playing in theaters.

Written by Sean Parker

Sean lives just outside of Boston. He loves great concerts, all types of movies, video games, and all things nerd culture.

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