Fantastic Fest 2017: DARKLAND Ranks Among The Very Best Vigilante Revenge Films

Layers Upon Layers Of Substance And Style

The world already didn’t need Eli Roth’s Death Wish remake.

And now with Darkland, the best vigilante revenge film of the year slot has already been filled.

Set in Denmark, but concerning a family of Iraqi immigrants who have been living there for close to thirty years, cultural identity is already at the fore, thematically, before any genre elements enter into the picture. We first meet Dar Salim’s Zaid living an idyllic life as a surgeon, husband, expectant father, and popular socialite. It’s a different story for his younger brother Yasin. Pressured into a poorly planned heist gone wrong, Yasin finds himself on the run on the streets, with thugs of all stripes chasing him down to silence him about the robbery before the cops catch him. So it’s quite early on when the emotional investment in Darkland kicks into high gear. Yasin enters into the ivory tower of Zaid’s life, begging for help. Zaid rebuffs his younger brother, and never sees him again. Riddled with guilt about turning his brother away in his time of greatest need, Zaid realizes quickly that the police have no real intention of spending a lot of effort to catch the killers of a known low level street thug. He begins prowling the streets looking for clues even as his loving wife Stine approaches her due date.

All the pieces are expertly placed on the board for Darkland to deliver the vigilante thriller goods. Writer/Director Fenar Ahmad creates an effortless and natural style that pervades the film without ever pulling it out of a very real world feel. Electronic music, smooth camerawork, sparing use of colors, and even utilizing the architecture of Denmark to leave a visual impression, Ahmad displays a quiet sense of confidence in his craft, as well as his chosen genre for this project.

And where many vigilante films strip the reason for living from our erstwhile heroes, ie killing off their spouses or children, Darkland leaves Zaid’s dream-life largely intact and pins the impetus for revenge on his guilt, slowly revealing to us the depths of criminal past from which Zaid himself had arisen. With Zaid’s parents and the larger Iraqi immigrant community also featuring largely in the tale, the situation becomes almost unbearably complicated. As Zaid begins zeroing in on the criminal boss responsible for Yasin’s death, and training and juicing with some old street friends to make this surgeon’s transformation into street prowler wholly believable, a few low level criminals end up hurt or worse. The vigilante at night is asked to heal his own victims in the day. And then forced to go speak with his victims’ families in the waiting room, many of whom look up to him as a fellow immigrant who’s become a respected surgeon. It’s all terribly ripe dramatic material and highlights the tightness of the script as penned by Ahmad and Adam August.

There’s no lack of baseline thrills in Darkland either. As Zaid constructs a sort of real-world Batman suit and Batcycle, it’s cool as hell to see him dish out punishment on mostly deserving criminals. It’s easy to get swept up in the style and satisfaction of Zaid’s quest for vengeance. The throbbing electronic music and Dar Salim’s true star performance also help sell the action elements. But that well-laid chessboard of characters, culture, and class always reminds us that we don’t want to see Zaid lose what he’s worked so hard to achieve, even if he turned his back on his brother. Never losing its dramatic heft or breaking too far away from street-level gritty realism, Darkland takes audiences on a relentless descent into revenge that ranks among the very best examples of its subgenre.

And I’m Out.

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