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Friday, April 15, 2022

French Anthology ‘Dark Stories’ Is a Gallery of Finely Curated Terror Tales [Horrors Elsewhere]

The bilingual French horror anthology series Dark Stories premiered on Halloween in 2019 before it was eventually reassembled as a full-length feature. Even though it was intended for the small screen, the better-than-average production values make for an easier transition. Also, no individual part of the source material exceeds the 20-minute mark, so the sub-stories are easy to get through. First, though, is the prerequisite framing device that feels straight out of Tales from the Darkside: The Movie. In “The Bloody Doll”, a mother named Christine (Kristanna Loken) is held captive by the wraparound’s ravenous namesake, who only holds off on eating so his prey can entertain him.

Christine’s first means of distraction is a monster outing called “Feast of the Ghouls”. This segment is set inside an art gallery, which becomes the battleground between a curator and a security guard (Delphine Chanéac, Julien Pestel), and a pair of painted ghouls who have escaped the canvas and taken the mother’s son (Noham Moeenuddeen). The monsters are no more menacing than a good Scooby Doo villain, but they do possess an eeriness all thanks to visual effects giving them the semblance of living ink.

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The next chapter, “The Park”, finds a jogger fighting for her life. After meeting a flirty American (John Robinson) while out for a run, Sophie (Dorylia Calmel) wakes up alone in the same park later that night. She is then bombarded by a series of supernatural occurrences, including a lurching man whose head is covered in a plastic bag. This story pipes in the atmospheric frights as well as creates a good deal of unease in such a short time.

Christine shares another tale to keep the doll occupied and away from her sleeping son. “Dead But Alive” starts off with Franck (Sébastien Lalanne) waking up after his own autopsy. A coroner, Marcus (Loup-Denis Elion), helps Franck collect both his bearings and his innards before sending him on his way. From there the story becomes a one-man mission; Franck races to save his family from some gangster types. Nothing here satiates Christine’s captor; he prefers to hear about actual monsters and not reanimated corpses. Viewers, however, will find more to like in this productive blend of action, comedy, and body horror.

Christine submits to the doll’s demand for more monsters and tells him about a woman haunted by a demon. In “Boughtat”, Audrey (Tiphaine Daviot) returns to Paris after spending time in North Africa. She suspects a supernatural entity, a jinn, is now following her, but her friend Samir (Slimane-Baptiste Berhoun) is skeptical until the evidence is indisputable. This segment is heads above the others in terms of substantial frights, although the most successful scares here are the ones hidden in plain sight.

The penultimate vignette is easily the most bizarre of the pack. “The Last Judgment” concerns a reporter and a camera operator from the city, respectively Carrie and Damien (Michelle Ryan, Florent Dorin), who visit an interviewee out in the countryside. Jean-Luc (Dominique Pinon) claims to have encountered aliens, but his family is divided on the matter. Meanwhile, more than Carrie’s journalistic ethics are at risk when she gets too close to the story and the subject. The anthology saves this oddball for last, and the choice pays off in spades. Colorful characters, high stakes, and impressive visuals all increase the value of this extraterrestrial entry.

Loken’s character has done an admirable job of keeping the doll’s attention so far, but with the sun coming up, and her well of creativity running dry, Christine has to come up with another plan. Or, has she already figured a way out of this situation? The frame narrative in any horror anthology has no obligation to those on either side of the stories; both the host and listener are equally susceptible to grisly fate as soon as the storytelling ends. Where this one ends up, though, is a bloody surprise.

Not all is perfect in Dark Stories. Almost half of the presented offerings commit an offense too common these days in newer horror anthologies; the tales abruptly end on only a grim note. Being so concise to begin with means there is little room for anything after the ample buildup. “Dead But Alive” and “The Last Judgment” resolve themselves more cleanly than others, whereas the rest have more to tell before they are cut short. These curtailed conclusions keep an air of mystery, and for some that is fine and possibly preferred, but others will be annoyed at this recurring resort to open-endedness.

Dark Stories admittedly never exceeds or subverts the audience’s expectations, but enjoyment can also be found in the familiar. Directors Guillaume Lubrano and François Descraques put their stamp on popular tropes and twists, and they occasionally pay homage to horror of yesteryear. From Darkman to Insidious, this anthology shows visible appreciation of everything great about the genre.

At a quick glance, French horror movie Dark Stories seems like another drop in the bucket of low-end horror anthologies all stitched together from various sources. While a series of TV episodes are indeed the main ingredients of this 2021 release, the repackaging job exceeds expectations. The series of the same name slipped under radars back in 2019, but this handy compilation now gives everyone access to a solid and diverse collection of creep tales.

Horrors Elsewhere is a recurring column that spotlights a variety of movies from all around the globe, particularly those not from the United States. Fears may not be universal, but one thing is for sure — a scream is understood, always and everywhere.

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The post French Anthology ‘Dark Stories’ Is a Gallery of Finely Curated Terror Tales [Horrors Elsewhere] appeared first on Bloody Disgusting!.


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