From Black Is a Dull Entry into the Grief Horror Subgenre

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From Black Is a Dull Entry into the Grief Horror Subgenre

Like it or not, we are living in the grief-and-trauma-as-horror era. It’s the basis of a bulk of popular horror films such as Hereditary (and every other Ari Aster film), The Babadook and even It (you’ll never guess what the scary clown is a metaphor for!). There’s a reason horror creators and fans are so obsessed with these themes: Grief and trauma can often feel much more menacing, more grotesque than any oozing monster. 

One of the most recent, most conspicuous entries into this subgenre, From Black, follows Cora (Anna Camp), a recovering drug addict grieving the sudden disappearance of her small child, Noah (Eduardo Campirano). Things start to look up for Cora when the leader of her grief counseling group, Abel (John Ales), tells her that he knows a way to bring Noah back. All she has to do is stand, chained to the ground in the middle of a ring of salt, while he recites mysterious verses in another language. What could go wrong?

Spoiler alert: The recitation of cryptic passages from dusty old books doesn’t tend to yield the best results in horror movies, and From Black is no exception to this tried-and-true rule. Indeed, what starts as an opportunity for Cora to see her son again quickly deteriorates into a nightmare-fueled experience chock-full of jump scares and bone-vomit (for better or for worse, you’ll get that last reference soon).

Now, you’re probably thinking, “Okay, this movie has jump scares and bone-vomit in it. So it’s probably at least entertaining, right?” Not exactly. From its opening moments, From Black takes itself far too seriously, from its muddy gray color palette to its somber—and nearly-inaudible—line-reads, from its overwrought performances to the grating score that infiltrates any scene that so much as hints at suspense. And while the notion of a young mother wracked by guilt is compelling ground for a solid horror flick, the world of From Black is far too dull to draw anyone in. And even when those cool gooey monsters do finally come knocking on the door, the film’s pacing remains lethargic, and it becomes difficult to even rouse emotion at the literal jump scares. From Black falls short both as a tale of grief and as a campy creature feature.

This is a shame, because From Black, written by director Thomas Marchese and Jessub Flower, holds its fair share of potential. It’s a shrewd, compelling subversion of the demonic curse trope, with a slick focus on the very human experience of grief. But it is, ironically, in the strength of these two elements that the execution falls short. Marchese and Flower are clearly aware of the potential that their set-up has, and in attempting to submerge themselves fully into both themes, ultimately commit to neither. We never get a strong hold on how the search for Noah actually played out, for example, nor does the ritual end up being anything but vague and cliched.

But it isn’t just From Black’s story that is slightly wasted by its sluggish pacing and lackluster storytelling. Camp delivers an exceptional performance as Cora, breaking free from the grief-riddled-mama-bear trope by infusing her character with a level of weakness, vulnerability and even cruelty. Ales admittedly has a tough time playing opposite Camp; where she provides From Black with subtlety, he matches it with a jarring dosage of histrionics. Jennifer Lafleur also stands out as Cora’s sister, local cop Bray who is riddled with guilt at having failed to locate Noah years prior. Lafleur brings a measure of warmth and spunk to a movie that is largely devoid of it. 

It’s a shame, then, that her character doesn’t amount to much more than a stoic cop, just as it’s a shame that From Black doesn’t reach its potential of being a rockin’ good campy supernatural thriller, or a meditation on grief that brings something new to the endlessly proliferating grief-horror subgenre. One can only hope that next time, Marchese will realize his strengths and lean mercilessly into them.

Director: Thomas Marchese
Writer: Thomas Marchese, Jessub Flower
Stars: Anna Camp, John Ales, Jennifer Lafleur, Travis Hammer
Release Date: April 28, 2023  

Aurora Amidon is a film journalist and passionate defender of Hostel: Part II. Follow her on Twitter for her latest questionable culture takes.

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