8.5

Out of Darkness Confronts Fears Older Than History

Movies Reviews andrew cumming
Out of Darkness Confronts Fears Older Than History

Some fears are older than history. It’s one of those truths that makes horror stories so exciting, so primal for those of us who indulge in their particularly dark delights: The sense that we’re examining a continuum of experience that stretches back eons, that unifies all of human history regardless of demographic persuasion. We can all understand fear of the dark, fear of the unknown, fear of isolation, because we have millennia of ingrained, evolutionary understanding built into our gray matter. Or, put another way: Some fears are so ingrained we can never escape them, which only makes them scarier.

All of this means that Out of Darkness, the buzzy new horror film from director Andrew Cumming, begins with a kind of visceral allure even beyond the attractiveness of its high-concept. Lots of horror films deal with universal fears, of course, but with this film, set 45,000 years in the past, Cumming makes that subtextual universality into text. The aim is to deliver something that’s both a gripping throwback and a shockingly timeless exploration of human terror. Happily for horror fans, the film mostly hits the mark, and becomes a must-see genre film along the way. 

The story begins as a small band of hunter-gatherers arrive on the shores of a new land, hopeful that they’ll soon find a safe, bountiful place to call home. Headstrong Adem (Chuku Modu) leads them, convinced that he’s the only way any of them will survive, but his leadership has begun to feel a bit shaky. His pregnant partner Ave (Iola Evans) is getting weaker, his son Heron (Luna Mwezi) is worried, his brother Geirr (Kit Young) is starting to question things, and the resident group elder Odal (Arno Lüning) isn’t helping with his rising focus on superstition. At the center of it all, unsure of her role in this drama, is Beyah (Safia Oakley-Green), a “stray” whom Adem has always seen as an outsider who should just be grateful to be among them. But as darkness and uncertainty close in around the group, and something seems to be hunting them from the surrounding wilderness, Beyah proves that she might be their last best hope.

Good horror films are often works of deceptive simplicity, and Out of Darkness‘ script, written by Ruth Greenberg from a story she co-crafted with Cumming and producer Oliver Kassman, weaves that idea into its narrative. Basically, we’re just watching a group of people cross a large expanse of land to get to the mountains, where safe caves presumably await them. It’s the same opening struggle that’s been applied to Westerns and adventure films since time immemorial, but it works, and not just because it’s a timeless narrative concept.

What you’ll likely notice right away is that Out of Darkness possesses a mesmeric, melancholy beauty, as Cumming and his crew deliver windswept plains, dense forests, and ink-black night sequences (some of them strikingly lit by a green-hued aurora borealis) that make the landscapes feel untouched, pristine and thick with possibilities both hopeful and dangerous. The landscapes themselves, when kept in focus, do a lot of the work, but the power of the images is about more than great location scouting. Whether he’s framing his characters as silhouettes in the mouths of caves or illuminating their phases in the crackling flash of a lightning strike, Cumming clearly understands how to wring maximum visual impact from his surroundings, as well as how to tell a supremely visual story. There is dialogue in Out of Darkness, all of it framed in a fictional ancient language designed for the film, but you could easily turn off the subtitles and follow every juicy detail of this story thanks to great camerawork and solid pacing.

Or at least, mostly solid pacing. In a narrative clearly inspired by unknown terrors in Alien and The Hills Have Eyes, with a hint of Jaws thrown in as the film holds back on revealing its monsters, Out of Darkness thrives when it keeps its story in the dark, focusing intently on the struggles of its leads. When the situation starts to become clear, and the narrative shifts into more of an all-out fight than a survival horror tale, the narrative momentarily stumbles, the pacing faltering just so along the way. It’s a brief interlude of slight clumsiness, but the rest of the film – including a devastating, intriguing ending – is so good that it’s hard not to notice the hiccup. 

Out of Darkness makes up for it with a tremendous cast which rises to the challenge of this rather unorthodox filmmaking journey with vulnerability, precision and adept feats of often-silent acting. These actors, led by Oakley-Green and Modu, are asked to work in sparse locations, often acting against unseen forces, all while speaking in a language they had to learn specifically for the movie, imbuing everything with emotional stakes all the while.

The whole film, from the acting to the writing to the production design and the sound editing, is dialed into the very particular vibe Cumming is trying to create with this story, a film that’s as much about survival horror as it is about the fears that still linger with us now, fears that our evolutionary chain will likely never shed. That makes it both a film very worthy of your time, and a movie sure to rank among the best horror pictures of 2024.

Director: Andrew Cumming
Writer: Ruth Greenberg
Starring: Safia Oakley-Green, Chuku Modu, Kit Young, Arno Lüning, Iola Evans, Luna Mwezi
Release Date: February 9, 2024


Matthew Jackson is a pop culture writer and nerd-for-hire who’s been writing about entertainment for more than a decade. His writing about movies, TV, comics, and more regularly appears at SYFY WIRE, Looper, Mental Floss, Decider, BookPage, and other outlets. He lives in Austin, Texas, and when he’s not writing he’s usually counting the days until Christmas.

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