Dark Touch has the kind of typical cover art that runs rampant on the horror section of Netflix Instant. Based on that, I wasn't expecting much.
It's nice to be surprised.
Quick Plot: Niamh (pronounced 'Neav', as if THAT makes sense Ireland) is a quiet and seemingly awkward young girl living in a small Irish countryside village. One night, she runs from her house screaming with a sliced tongue, taking refuge of sorts in her neighbors, the Galins. Whatever caused such a stir remains unexplained as her upper class, distant parents dismiss it.
A few nights later, Niamh awakens to find her baby brother crying on the hallway floor. Wealthy, distant parents are quick to blame Niamh before being taken out by all manners of evil housewares. Chandeliers rain, desks attack, and like a darker memory of Tourist Trap's prologue, Niamh's folks are brutally slaughtered by mere household furniture.
Neighbor Nat is quick to take in Niamh, but as anyone who's seen Orphan, Stevie, Case 39, or pretty much any genre film involving adoption ever knows, foster care is tricky business. Shy and withdrawn, Niamh has a hard time fitting in at school. At home, she never seems able to settle, flinching any time Nat or her husband come near or make an attempt to touch her.
Clearly, Niamh has some demons. What makes Dark Touch such a fascinating little horror film is how it demonstrates their presence without outright explaining, well, pretty much anything. Nobody ever really comes out and asks Niamh what's wrong and if they had, Niamh probably couldn't put it into words.
Directed by Marina de Van (best known for In My Skin and Don’t Look Back), Dark Touch is a far deeper film than what its premise and cover art suggest. Sure, the Carrie telekinesis feels a little typical at first, but as the film circles Niamh’s discomfort with the world around her, it’s striking to realize that Dark Touch never has to tell you what’s actually going on. It doesn’t have to: we know what we need from the horror that constantly pains Niamh’s face. Everything else is just collateral damage.
The strength of Dark Touch really does lie in what it buries so slightly under the surface. It’s quite a feat for a brief and still genuinely scary little horror film
Throughout the film, Niamh continues to run into a pair of abused siblings who at first seem like ghosts. There's a clear connection running through the trio, but much like the recent Jug Face, it's probably the one major area of Dark Touch that felt a little too cheap horror movie
Inviting every guest to bring a doll to an eight-year-old’s birthday party is really just asking for trouble
Children don’t always realize how violent they can be
Well-intentioned foster parents don't always realize how violent children can be
Dark Touch is an oddly effective film that doesn't quite reveal itself until the credits have rolled. I found myself slightly frustrated while watching in trying to figure out what I was missing, but once it was over and I gave it a little more thought, everything became perfectly clear. This is a story about child abuse, how it gives birth to something so confused and angry, so potentially powerful and so easy to misunderstand. It's not an easy watch, but as far as modern horror gores, it's incredibly disturbing.