Darkland, the new film from writer/director Fenar Ahmad, is built from plot beats we’ve seen dozens, if not hundreds, of times. Charles Bronson, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sly Stallone and Bruce Willis have built entire careers on the tropes on display in this film. But, when the performances are this rich, and the characterizations are this layered, the old becomes new again, making Darkland a stunning, gritty revenge thriller.
Zaid is a surgeon of Iraqi descent living in Denmark. He’s a talented doctor with a ritzy high-rise apartment and is expecting his first child with his wife, Stine. His younger brother, however, is a low-level criminal who gets in way over his head after a bank robbery goes awry during the opening of the film. When Zaid refuses to yet again bail his brother out of his bad decisions, the young man is found murdered, sending Zaid into a spiral of guilt, depression and anger. The police have no real suspects and no real theories about the murder, so Zaid feels compelled to take matters into his own hands.
In the Death Wish school of revenge films, the protagonist usually loses everything in the first act of the film. A murdered spouse or child gives birth to an avenging angel who mows down everyone in his or her path. Not so with Darkland. Zaid has a thriving career, an adoring wife, a child on the way. He has every reason to simply mourn his brother and walk away. And that’s where the film finds its emotional core: in the choices that Zaid must make. His decisions have consequences not just for the villains, but also for Zaid and his loved ones.
Darkland wisely slow-plays its violence and bloody retribution. The tension builds over time, prodded along by an intermittent synth score that adds nicely to the sinister vibe. The story drips with a sense of dread. A brief scene in a restaurant between Zaid and a local crime boss provides as much suspense as any shootout or fist fight. The film wisely maintains its smaller scale story-telling. No sidekick ala Ernest Borgnine or Martin Balsam shows up to fire rocket launchers at the street thugs. The violence is quick and brutal just as real violence tends to be.
Dar Salim anchors the film with his brooding performance as Zaid. In lesser hands, Zaid would be a mono-dimensional cipher, a mindless killing machine. Darkland works so well because we see the many facets of Zaid’s psyche. We feel his pain. The audience cares about these characters, and that’s why Darkland is cut above most thrillers.
The Movie Isle
Scott Phillips holds a degree in print journalism from the University of Georgia and is currently a member of the Georgia Film Critics Association (GAFCA). In addition to his role as a correspondent for Timed Edition, Scott serves as the Executive Editor and Senior Writer for themovieisle.com. From 2013 through 2017, he reviewed films for filmdispenser.com. Along with his duties as a critic, Scott serves as the Content Programmer for the Way Down Film Festival held in Columbus, Georgia every fall.