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Review: Darkside


After a devastating tragedy, an astronaut struggles to complete his interstellar mission to rescue a lost crew.


In the instances in which a short film is able to blend emotional crisis with science fiction on an epic scale, we as an audience are as compelled to take notice as we are fortunate to have such a film to take notice of. Writer and director Spencer Zimmerman delivers this experience with a near perfect balance of visual boldness and emotive drama. Opening with a voice over conversation between our two central characters, the main conflicting themes are established right away in what seems like almost spiritual contemplation being confronted with a refusal to search for the deeper truth beneath the surface.

The thematic and narrative premise are delivered side by side as we are introduced to one half of the opening voice over, protagonist Sam (Blakely David) performing a spacewalk while trying to repair his malfunctioning ship. This is quickly followed by disaster as an explosion rocks the ship resulting in the death of the crew, leaving him as the sole survivor. A touch of off-screen exposition outlines the plot dilemma as we find out that Sam and his crew were on a rescue mission, however the explosion has left the ship without enough fuel to get home if Sam pushes forward. As it becomes clear what Sam’s intentions are, we are plunged into his internal contemplation of what led him to this point. Under less imaginative stewardship, this would simply be a device to fill in the backstory, instead Zimmerman sacrifices traditional chronological order, opting instead for a journey through Sam’s emotional arc. Sam is motivated by events in the present to remember specific moments from his past. This results not only in an interesting exploration of Sam’s internal conflict but also establishes a narrative style that allows for mind-blowing reveals further down the road.

As the story progresses, we are slowly introduced to the reality that Sam’s dogged determination to continue with the mission is less about moving toward to goal and more about escaping what he has left on Earth. Diving into a gut-wrenching family tragedy, the story leads us to Sam’s wife Sarah (Siobhan Connors), who acts as a counterpoint to Sam’s bleak and blunt tunnel vision. Sarah’s entry into the story gives rise to the central dramatic conflict of avoidance disguised as stoicism vs vulnerability as the true face of courage. As Sam battles through this conflict, Sarah’s gentle yet unwavering resolve to guide Sam to confront his pain acts as a potential path to Sam’s salvation. Sarah’s near elegiac dialogue (with equally graceful delivery from Connors) is as unyieldingly tender as siren song, keeping the audience fully engaged, comforted by her tone and yet astounded by her strength.

Blakely David is equally effective as Sam, using his physicality to project the pain that his character is working so hard to supress. David’s quiet agony permeates every scene he is in, connecting us with the deep well of grief that he carries through the film. Both David and Connors approach their roles with the kind of commitment that makes it impossible not to buy them as the emotionally conflicted couple that the film presents us with. These stellar (forgive the pun) performances are elevated by the absolutely breath-taking visuals from cinematographer Liam Meredith and an effects team that go above and beyond to sell the silent violence of being isolated in space.

This is a hugely ambitious short film, grand in scope and yet somehow still intensely intimate. Without preaching, the film challenges the typical stoic male approach to grief, matching every clenched jaw with a disarming open hand. David and Connors’ raw emotionality anchors us to a story that Zimmerman delivers with meticulous detail and extraordinary boldness. Every frame is a painting and every line of dialogue poetry.

The film, like Sarah herself, works very hard to reach the most sensitive parts of us. Visually stunning and emotionally urgent, Darkside is a truly powerful piece of short film cinema.

Studio: Spencer Zimmerman | Year: 2022 | Genre: Sci-Fi/Drama | Duration: 12 Mins | Suitability: Mature



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