Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Dark Enemy (1984)

Directed by:
Colin Finbow

After much of mankind has been wiped out by war, "The Valley People" live a peaceful, pastoral existence. They love work. They love animals. They refuse to kill other living beings or consume their flesh. They have their own mythologies and religious beliefs; worshiping something called "The Great Spirit." And they have many rules to keep their small society running smoothly, which include children obeying their elders, never questioning the rulings of their leader, never discussing "the dark time" and never wandering away from their village after dark. According to the elders, outside of the village where the sun doesn't shine lies "the forbidden place," which is rumored to contain a cannibalistic mutant race called "the moon children." They're supposedly albino, deformed and eyeless, eat meat (including humans) and only come out at night. In addition to them there are roving prides of blood-thirsty canines called "moon dogs," that are avoided because one of them supposedly ate an infant.

With many of the elders dying off from something referred to only as "the sickness," the young adults - led by Barnaby (Martin Laing) and Ruth (Jennifer Harrison) - decide to move up in the ranks and reform their society a bit. Tasks are delegated to new people and, at the urging of surviving elder Ash (David Haig), they forbid the kids from visiting old hermit Ezra (Douglas Storm) due to him continuing to speak about the past and scaring the kids with stories about the moon children. Young Aron (Rory Macfarquhar), who has frequent headaches and hears voices in his head, is assigned the tasks of fire-maker and "provider" for Ezra. He's to take him food once a day and leave it outside his hut and then be on his way. Instead, Aron decides to start talking to him and eventually befriends him. Ezra offers up the occasional cryptic warning like "beware the dark" and "beware bright circles."

This first sign of disobedience leads to more rule breaking and wayward behavior from the other kids. One boy makes a bow and arrow and kills a rabbit. After they throw it on the fire, another boy decides to taste it. While out collecting firewood, Aron and his friend Beth (Cerian Van Doorninck) venture a little bit beyond the edges of their society and spot a windmill and what looks like the roof of a home.

Because Ash feels his days are numbered as the adults have recently been dropping like flies, he narrows down the position of potential new leader to Barnaby, shepherd Garth (Chris Chescoe) and Aron. He sends them on a dangerous quest called an "ordeal" where they must go to the edge of their society. When they return, if they survive, they're forbidden to speak of anything they witnessed while they were gone. Whoever returns first will be assigned the position of leader. While on the quest, the two older boys attempt to kill Aron by cutting his rope as he crosses a river, but he survives, proves to have telepathic abilities and crosses paths with both the moon dogs and one of the moon children. The simple, pacifist society of The Valley People starts to crumble once the boys return and perks about what lies beyond their tiny, insulated village are revealed.

Though this is certainly ambitious and well-meaning in touching on mankind's destructive nature (environmental damage, proclivity for war) to satisfy our insatiable greed and materialism, this is lacking in some important areas too difficult to overlook. While it tries to do its best utilizing its outdoor locations and few crumbling old buildings / farmhouses, it doesn't have the budget or production design to quite pull off its post apocalyptic atmosphere (it's mostly just kids dressed in dirty rags sitting around in fields and on the ground) and it's too poorly acted (flubbed lines and all) to be a very compelling end of the world drama. Furthermore, it saves the headier stuff for the very end and a lot of what leads up to that isn't particularly interesting nor does it function to highlight the film's primary point.

This was a Children's Film Unit production. Founded in 1981, the CFU films were made with the strong input of children, who worked in all capacities on these from initial concept through execution. Finbow founded the company, which was financed as an educational charity and had some pretty famous donors at one point, ranging from Steven Spielberg to Richard Attenborough to members of the British royal family. Their final finished feature was made in 1997 and the company ceased operation for good in 2011.

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