Stories have an incredible power, as can be seen in Frank van den Bogaart’s bewitching folklore-like tale Donkerster (Darker). After her father goes missing, a young girl desperately ventures into the dark mystical woods to seek out a mythological creature believed to collect the stories from the dying. In a film that impressively weaves myth and legend, spun from the fear of death, and set within a small Dutch speaking community, from the first moment of its 15-minute runtime, Darker lures you into a world that feels as alive as the most horrifying pages of a fairytale.
As its title suggest, there’s nothing bright or warm about Darker, be it visually or emotionally. Much like the folktales that have been passed down generations, there’s a dark lesson to glean from Rhena’s story. In many ways, the young girl, impressively played by Adriana Bakker, both listens and learns first hand what it means to mess with fate. Atmospheric and altogether heartbreaking, Darker is fantastically surreal and isn’t a film that’s easy to shake.
Cinematographer Pieter Van Campe captures stunningly eerie imagery, art director Nicole Tegelaar’s production design is impeccable and Saskia Verreycken’s impressive practical effects are beautifully gruesome. The sound design by Eneas Mentzel and Yves De Mey, amplifies the unsettling tone of the story, by building a spooky and sometimes gross soundscape that might make the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end. In general, the production is stellar, and the sound itself is as poignant as every frame on screen, which was no accident. “Besides a lot of visual world building I wrote every sound in the scenario”, the director explains. “So there is a big auditive world as well. It always feels to me that the image is one layer we focus on and the audio is multiple layers where you can achieve depth that make us believe and even feel the images”.
While the craft is undeniably impressive, themes of death and loss are at the film’s core. “Death and the fear of death are complex and I hope that with this film I brought some comfort to these big themes whilst respecting that complexity,” van den Bogaart tells Short of the Week while discussing the aims of his short. Darker is an extremely personal film inspired by his love of mythology, nature, and the fear of losing his own father.
“In 2019 my father tore his aorta”, the filmmaker reveals. “During this life threatening situation and whilst waiting for the outcome of the 10-hour operation, I could only think about him becoming a story. Luckily he survived the operation and he is still here to experience some new stories. But the thought of him becoming a story was dreadful yet, in a way, also comforting. Because there will be something left. This experience and feeling is central in Darker.” The gravity of losing a loved one and coming to terms with what they leave behind is poetically explored in Darker. A genre-bending tale that offers solace to those who accept death, let Rhena’s tale be a warning to those who will let it consume them.
Having screened at a number of genre fests, Darker received a special mention at Fantasia last year, won Best Film & Best Performance at North Bend Film Fest. I got to see Darker on the big screen at Fantasia last summer and it was an absolute delight – which makes it that much more exciting to announce that Poppy’s Saturn directed by Frank van den Bogaart’s partner and collaborator Nicole Tegelaar will be premiering at this year’s festival in the 2023 Celluloid Experiments shorts block.