Thursday, 13 October 2016

BFI LFF 2016: WHAT'S IN THE DARKNESS - Dir. Wang Yichun

With a rarely seen perspective on the murder mystery genre, Wang Yichun’s debut film feels disjointed at first but gradually breaks free of expected genre trappings to deliver an unsettling look at an insidious and repressed modern China.

As a small rural town becomes engrossed by a spate of sexually motivated murders, teenage girl Jing (Su Xiaotong) begins to break free of her stilted family life and explore the wider world, stumbling across much that she isn’t ready for.

In the opening stretches, the mixing of the traditional murder mystery and the coming of age tale never quite settles but it establishes relationships that are at the heart of many of the film’s key moments. Jing’s father Qu (Guo Xiao) is a local police officer who’s presented as a bumbling fool; he’s always the last to find out when a new body is found, which leads to him running out of the house, dressing himself as he goes. His colleagues laugh at his penchant for forensic photography, but it’s this methodical and scientific mind-set that sets him apart from them and their hamfisted approach to police work.

Similarly presented as an outcast from the perceived norm is Zhang Xue (Lu Qiwei), an older classmate of Jing who rebels against the school’s dress code, drawing the attention of a wannabe gangster Zhao Fei (Jiang Xueming). She’s in charge of her femininity and sexuality like no other women in the town.

Much of the film observes Jing’s conversations with these people at school and at home. Yichun gradually creates a sense of unease, by holding a shot for slightly longer than is comfortable or bringing out background detail or actors. As the investigation proceeds (or in many ways doesn’t), that unease becomes increasingly palpable; familiar settings take on a different feel and perception of the characters changes. It’s a difficult experience to describe but it rewards the patience afforded to it. There’s no simple conclusion but the uncertainty is apt and quite frankly, a little bit chilling; it’s stuck with me for days.

What's in the Darkness plays at the 60th BFI London Film Festival on Thursday 13th October 2016 and Sunday 16th October 2016.

Visit the festival website for screening times and ticket details.

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