IN THE WINTER DARK
In the Winter Dark falls into what one could almost call a mini-genre of Australian Outback horror films. This also include the likes of the great The Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975), Incident at Ravens Gate (1988) and Miranda Ottos previous vehicle, the muchly underrated psychological horror story The Well (1997), and to a lesser extent films like Wake in Fright (1971), Razorback (1984), Frog Dreaming/The Quest (1986), Undead (2003) and Wolf Creek (2005). The Picnic at Hanging Rock, Ravens Gate and The Well, as well as In the Winter Dark, all see the Australian Outback as an inherently mysterious realm. All feature protagonists who are living on its edges dealing with some ambiguously supernatural threat that hovers at the edge of periphery, existing as much in the minds of the protagonists as it does in actuality. There is frequent suggestion that what transpires may be just as much hallucination caused by isolation.
In the Winter Dark starts with a compulsively fascinating opening: Ray Barrett sits on a porch and we get his voiceover: ... as though dead people, broken people bleed things into me like theres some pressure point because they cant get it out any more, cant get it told. Its like the things that need telling seep across to me in my sleep. As if there isnt enough holding down your secrets. As he sits, we get flashes of him asleep beside Brenda Blethyn that are abruptly punctuated by images of violence. It is only apparent at the end of the film that what we are seeing is a flashback rather than a glimpse of what is about to transpire but in watching such a haunted voiceover accompanied by these disturbing flashes, the film opens with a stunning sense of predestination, of bad things that are about to happen and a sinister threat hovering beneath the waking world. Even if this is later proven misleading, it is a stunning and beautifully brooding opening for a film.
The menace of what is in the woods and killing the livestock is never seen or even explained. Nevertheless, James Bogle keeps the sense of ominous mystery looming throughout. There is that intensely weird moment where Brenda Blethyn places her hands inside the imprint made of the animal footprints and finds that they fit her hands perfectly. Just like The Picnic at Hanging Rock, Bogle reaches a point where he leaves the entire mystery hanging who or what did the mutilations? What happened to Ray Barrett and Brenda Blethyns child (where we are given the impression that either it drowned or that he poisoned it by holding it to the exhaust pipe of a car)? The fadeout that In the Winter Dark reaches, where all the elements of the dream/flashback opening fall into place and we see Ray Barrett sitting on the stoop waiting until forgiveness and redemption arrive, is thoroughly haunting.
It must be said that James Bogles focus throughout is less on creating a horror show than it is on creating a tightly acted character ensemble. More than it is a horror story, In the Winter Dark is an actors film. It is carried by the four leads classic Aussie rough diamond character actor Ray Barrett, the fine and underrated Australian actor Richard Roxburgh who has since gained a modest international profile, Midlands British import Brenda Blethyn and the waifish Miranda Otto, subsequently of The Lord of the Rings fame.
Full film available online here:-