If a Predator movie was set in the Stone Age period, it might look something like Out of Darkness. To me, that’s high praise considering my love of that action franchise, which through multiple films combined man vs. nature thrills with the visceral horror of monster movies. First-time director Andrew Cumming makes good use of the rarely-seen setting (2018’s Alpha a notable highlight) to craft an atmospheric and tense survival film that, like the Predator spinoff Prey, puts its female characters in the spotlight.
Set 45,000 years ago, Out of Darkness opens with a group of Paleolithic travelers around a campfire. They have survived a dangerous voyage to find a mythical “promised land”, but it isn’t as bountiful as they hoped. On the verge of starvation, they are growing desperate in this barren, frigid, unfamiliar land of endless mountains and hills. As if it wasn’t bad enough in the daytime, at night it’s even worse. Fearful that it is plagued by demons, their worst fear comes true when a shrill shriek heralds the arrival of an unknown predator, who snatches away the most defenseless member of their clan.
Adem (Chuku Modu) leads this small pack, having encouraged this fruitless venture. With his spear, and apparent ego, he believes he can repel any danger that comes their way. He also believes they will find the haven they’ve been looking for. Adem has a son, Heron (Luna Mwezi), with another on the way with Ave (Iola Evans), who worries about giving birth to a female. A female will have to “earn her place” among the largely-male tribe, and it sounds as gross as you think it does. Our suspicions are confirmed in teen stray Beyah (Safia Oakley-Green), who, after getting her first period, is lustily told by Adem and sinister elder Odal (Arno Luning) that she exists “for whatever we need.” They don’t mean foraging for berries. Adem’s younger brother Geirr (Kit Young) is the timid one, treating the women with a respect they won’t get elsewhere.
Working with a minimal budget, Cumming makes smart use of lighting, sound, and shadow to mask the deadly creature. The Scottish Highlands are intimidating in the best of circumstances, but they are downright terrifying when the flicker of firelight is all there is to go by. A quibble that I had is that the actors don’t look like Stone Age travelers struggling to survive. The costumes, mostly made of animal pelts, are too fresh and dare I say stylish in some cases. It momentarily took me out of it but was forgotten once the gloomy atmospherics took hold, and Oakley-Green stepped up with a fearless performance as Beyah proved her mettle to the men.
Further immersing you into this desolate world is a unique subtitled language dubbed “Tola” that was created for the film by historical advisors Daniel Andersson and Rob Dinnis. It just goes to show the level of care and detail paid to the film, which had its world premiere back in 2022 and was originally titled Origin. Probably a good move to change that title, although Out of Darkness is a title so bland as to be forgettable and confused with about a thousand other horror movies.
A familiar rhythm is established as the creature hunts the tribe down, one by one. And like Predator before it, their various personalities and quirks often play into their demise. Fans of this particular type of survival horror will appreciate the mounting tension among the prey as they each look for a way out of certain death. The showdown is an appropriately chaotic life-or-death fight, backed by the glimmer of cave light. But the reveal of the hunter is a disappointment, as Cumming seeks to deliver a clumsy message than give audiences a satisfying introduction to a new screen monster. Cumming does so much right in crafting an exciting, precarious adventure that you can mostly forgive the misstep, and hope that Out of Darkness is the start of a long, successful career.
Bleecker Street opens Out of Darkness in theaters on February 9th.