French horror anthology ‘Dark Stories’ is a finely curated gallery of tales
The French Bilingual Horror Anthology Series dark stories premiered on Halloween in 2019 before eventually being reassembled as a feature film. Even though it was intended for the small screen, the above-average production values make for an easy transition. Additionally, no individual part of the source material exceeds the 20-minute mark, so sub-stories are easy to skim through. The first, however, is the prerequisite framing device which seems straight out of Tales from the Dark Side: The Movie. In “The bloody doll», a mother named Christine (Kristanna Loken) is held captive by the voracious wraparound namesake, which only holds back from eating so that its prey can entertain it.
Christine’s first distraction is a monster exit called “ghoul party”. This segment takes place inside an art gallery, which becomes the battleground between a curator and a security guard (Delphine Chaneac, Julien Pestel), and a pair of painted ghouls who escaped the web and took the mother’s son (Noham Moeenuddeen). Monsters are no more threatening than a good scooby-doo nasty, but they possess a weirdness thanks to visual effects giving them a semblance of living ink.
The next chapter,The parkfinds a jogger fighting for her life. After meeting an American seducer (John Robinson) during a race, Sophie (Dorylia Calmel) wakes up alone in the same park later that night. She is then bombarded by a series of supernatural events, including a wobbly man whose head is covered with a plastic bag. This story channels atmospheric scares and creates a lot of unease in such a short time.
Christine shares another story to keep the doll busy and away from her sleeping son. “dead but alivebegins with Frank (Sebastien Lalanne) waking up after his own autopsy. A coroner, Marcus (Loup-Denis Elion), helps Franck to find his bearings and his entrails before sending him back. From there, the story becomes an individual mission; Franck runs to save his family from certain types of gangsters. Nothing here satisfies Christine’s kidnapper; he prefers to hear about real monsters and not about reanimated corpses. Viewers, however, will find more to love in this productive mix of action, comedy, and body horror.
Christine submits to the doll’s request for more monsters and tells her about a woman haunted by a demon. In “Bought»,Audrey(Tiphaine Daviot) returns to Paris after spending time in North Africa. She suspects that a supernatural entity, a jinn, is following her now, but her friend Samir (Slimane-Baptiste Berhoun) is skeptical until the evidence is incontrovertible. This segment is above the rest in terms of substantial scares, although the most successful scares here are those that are hidden in plain sight.
The penultimate vignette is by far the most bizarre of the pack. “The last judgementis about a city reporter and cameraman, Carrie and Damien respectively (Michael Ryan, Florent Dorin), who visit a respondent in the countryside. Jean-Luc (Dominique Pinon) claims to have encountered extraterrestrials, but his family is divided on this. Meanwhile, more than Carrie’s journalistic ethics are in jeopardy when she gets too close to the story and the subject. The anthology saves this eccentric for last, and the choice pays off. Colorful characters, high stakes, and impressive visuals all up the value of this alien entry.
Loken’s character has done an admirable job of keeping the doll’s attention so far, but with the sun rising and her well of creativity running low, Christine must come up with another plan. Or has she already found a way out of this situation? The narrative framework of any horror anthology has no obligation to those on either side of the stories; host and listener are equally susceptible to a macabre fate as soon as the narrative ends. Where this one ends, however, is a bloody surprise.
All is not perfect in dark stories. Nearly half of the offerings featured commit an offense all too common these days in new horror anthologies; the tales end abruptly on a grim note. Being so concise to begin with means there’s little room for anything after the ample buildup. “Dead But Alive” and “The Last Judgment” resolve more cleanly than others, while the others have more to say before being cut short. These abbreviated conclusions retain an air of mystery, and for some this is good and perhaps preferred, but others will be annoyed by this recurring recourse to the opening.
dark stories Granted, it never exceeds or subverts audience expectations, but the fun can also be found in the familiar. Directors Guillaume Lubrano and Francois Descraques put their stamp on popular tropes and twists, and they sometimes pay homage to the horror of yesteryear. Since dark man for Insidiousthis anthology shows a visible appreciation for all that is great about the genre.
In short, French horror film dark stories seems like another drop in the bucket of low-end horror anthologies all assembled from various sources. If a series of TV episodes are indeed the main ingredients of this 2021 release, the repackaging work exceeds expectations. The series of the same name slipped under the radar in 2019, but this handy compilation now gives everyone access to a solid and diverse collection of creep tales.
Horrors from elsewhere is a recurring column that highlights a variety of movies from around the world, especially those outside of the United States. Fears may not be universal, but one thing is for sure — a cry is understood, always and everywhere.