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Dark Touch | Review

If Only They Knew She Had the Power: De Van’s Somber Telekinetic Exercise Lacks Verve

Marina De Van Dark Touch PosterPreviously a scribe and actress for Francois Ozon in some of his early works, Marina De Van has become a notable director in her own right, mostly due to a phenomenal debut with 2002’s In My Skin, in which she stars as a woman obsessed with cutting off parts of herself…and eating it. While she consistently delves into matters of the grotesque, she hasn’t quite matched the intensity of her first feature, though odd and offbeat often describe her works, such as the schizoid 2009 Bellucci/Marceau headliner Don’t Look Back. Her latest film, Dark Touch, set in Ireland and filmed in English, has her signature ambiguous menace in an otherwise straightforward genre effort focused on an abused preadolescent female with telekinetic powers. Unfortunately, the film will have you recall Carrie more than it will draw you into its own narrative.

Niamh (Missy Keating), is a troubled young girl holed up in a Gothic mansion in the middle of rural Ireland with her parents and baby brother. One stormy, tumultuous night we see her running and screaming through the foggy woods after jumping out of a window at home, running to the neighbors (Padraic Delaney and Marcella Plunkett) for help. Dripping blood from her mouth out of a gash in her tongue, the concerned neighbors go back to visit Niamh after she’s returned to her parents to find an awkward and uncomfortable tension there. Shortly after they leave, unseen forces animate household objects that violently kill Niamh’s parents and set the house ablaze, forcing Niamh to grab her baby brother and hide in an enclosed cupboard where she accidentally smothers the baby. The caring neighbors offer to look after Niamh temporarily as they have two children of their own slightly younger than her. As we get oh-so-subtle hints that Niamh’s parents were abusing her which unleashed her unexplained telekinetic powers, we also learn that her temporary parents had a young girl that died of cancer, whom Niamh used to play with as a young lass. Traumatized by recent events as well as the unfriendly children at school, Niamh begins to use her powers to lash out in unexpected ways.

There’s considerable promise to De Van’s murky set-up, filmed in a downtrodden gray zone of overcast weather and creaky mansions in the woods. Niamh (which sounds like Neve or Naive) is immediately reminiscent of two Stephen King protagonists, of course, from Carrie and Firestarter. But whereas those films explore manifestations of the eternal outsider, too much ambiguity about Niamh and what’s happened to her during an overly subtle first half feels disconnected from the sudden verge into more visceral genre territory. Suddenly, Dark Touch starts to invoke echoes of Tom Shankland’s The Children, Village of the Damned or even Who Could Kill a Child? with Niamh’s pregnant school counselor.

Its creepiest moments are De Van’s hints at the possibility of sexual abuse, like Niamh pulling up her dress at the sight of a man’s boots by her bed (explanation made evident in the film). But without warning, Niamh becomes an avenging angel for other lost children before De Van finally brings us to an over-the-top finale, even if it is entertaining to see a creepy group of girls at a birthday party gleefully abusing and cutting up their dolls as they wallow in a veritable circle jerk of self-image issues. Unfortunately, De Van’s opaque narrative stylings pertaining to Niamh’s troubled identity don’t blend well with Dark Touch’s continual promise of pulpy genre, and this overtly psychological thriller may seem disappointing in that it never hits a satisfactory stride since we’re never quite invested in her plight.

Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2021: France (Bruno Dumont), Passing (Rebecca Hall) and Nightmare Alley (Guillermo Del Toro). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.


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