While it handles its heavy topics tactfully, this timely Australian thriller ends up being a flawed film that just misses greatness.

This article predates the Odd Trilogies website.
It was originally published on Film Yap.

There’s quite a haunting feeling watching a piece of media portray a school shooting scene, especially from the perspective of the police. In a day and age where such traumatic events are unfortunately more frequent than they have any right to be, it’s a bold statement to not only handle that kind of traumatic experience but to also discuss the trauma police officers go through while attempting to stop the shooting. At the same time though, what if a film asks what would happen if the police didn’t handle the situation? What if the film shows fear froze an officer at the worst time? What sort of aftermath would await that officer?

These questions are what Darklands focuses on. This independent thriller out of Australia follows two women: Samantha Romans (Nadine Garner) and Jamie Connard (Samantha Cain). Samantha Romans is a police officer that freezes during a school shooting, resulting in the death of over twenty students including her teenage son Tim. In the aftermath of the shooting, Samantha begins to spiral into darkness as the media, and even her colleagues, hang her out to dry. Dealing with the guilt of losing her son as well as her inability to act, Samantha begins to realize that there might be no way out of the darkness. With already having to deal with her fair share of trauma before the shooting, Samantha starts to wonder if she even has a purpose anymore.

That’s where Jamie Connard comes in. Jamie is a journalist that is second guessing her role in her own profession, believing that an interview with Samantha will be able to put her back on the map of relevance. When Samantha declines the interview multiple times, Jamie takes it personally. She begins to openly mock Samantha on the website she writes for, even going so far as to not only critique Samantha as a woman in the police force but also as a mother who let her son die in the shooting. When Jamie begins to use Tim’s death to push Samantha to do the interview, something breaks in Samantha. 

When Jamie believes that she has finally scored her interview, what she discovers is that she has made an enemy that she is nowhere near prepared for. As Jamie prepares for the interview, Samantha enacts a revenge plot that involves Jamie’s own family. As tensions rise, what will Samantha do? Will Jamie be able to stack up against Samantha’s rage? Will either woman cross a line that they can never come back from?

Darklands is an engaging film whose strong points lie in the bold topics it tackles. As someone who was worried that the film would veer too far into “anti-cop/cop propaganda” territory, it was incredibly refreshing to see the film tackle the inaction of an officer at a school shooting with enough subtlety and empathy to make Samantha Romans not an easy target to hate. Paired with the very enjoyable performance from Nadine Garner, Samantha ends up being less of a caricature and more of a tragic figure that is more than aware of what her inaction has cost so many people. The film also does a good job with not using that empathy to completely validate Samantha’s later actions, letting the story show a complex character that is far less “crazy cop” and far more a woman whose boundless sadness has pushed her down a horrible path. While Garner certainly turns up the insanity with Samantha’s crazier moments, it’s hard not to leave the film and be a bit impressed by the work put into such a difficult character.

Unfortunately, that level of complexity for Samantha Romans is not present for Jamie Connard. While Jamie’s professional background and love for her family would have given her more depth if explored, she ends up coming off more antagonistic than necessary, resulting in a portrayal of a journalist that is hilariously bad sometimes. She crosses boundaries constantly, takes certain interactions from Samantha weirdly personally, and even goes so far as to ignore pleas to leave Samantha alone from her inner circle. While Samantha Cain does her absolute best with the material, it’s a shame that Jamie just comes off as a trashy journalist in the end because it would’ve been phenomenal to make the audience feel more uncomfortable when Samantha begins to terrorize Jamie. With how the film goes though, it’s hard not to see Jamie go through Samantha’s plan and feel like there’s karma built into what she’s forced to do.

It’s in that dichotomy between the work put into Samantha Romans and Jamie Connard that plagues a lot of the decisions made in Darklands. The bold look at school shootings and police inaction are handled well but very shallow, the ensemble is fine but has very little to work with, the story is engaging yet rushes its own pacing at the worst moments, and the action scenes are admirable but ultimately distract from what Line of Fire is trying to do. This is a thriller that has a lot going on but sadly feels like it stops itself from truly touching greatness. Regardless of even how good the film looks at times, it seems to forget just how much narrative potential it has by the time it hits its climax. There’s a good chunk to enjoy about Darklands; just not enough to love. 

Overall, Darklands is an enjoyable yet flawed thriller. While the controversial topics discussed in the film are handled with the appropriate amount of gravitas, it’s not enough to distract from the unevenness in character development as well as the little issues that pile up just a bit too much towards the film’s finale. With that said though, I enjoyed my time with the film. There’s enough here for a thriller fan to get enough out of it while watching on a Sunday afternoon. It probably won’t be anyone’s favorite film of the year but I think it’ll surprise many that give it a try on video-on-demand. In the end, Darklands is a good film that holds itself back just enough from being something truly great.

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Freelance writer out of Indianapolis. Co-host of Odd Trilogies podcast. Whether it's films or television, I'm always down to watch!

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