Irish horror has been something of an unsung treasure trove of scares in recent years. Creature horror thrived among the bovine bone parasites in 2005’s Isolation, the tentacled sea suckers of 2012’s Grabbers and the fungal fey body-horror of 2015’s The Hallow. Social realism met gritty dark fantasy and disturbing haunting in Colm McCarthy’s Outcast and Ivan Kavanagh’s The Canal respectively. 2014’s From the Dark sits right in the middle of those films, yet first glance at its horrible generic poster on Tubi and Shudder likely doesn’t exactly inspire confidence. But make no mistake, this brisk tale of a boggy bloodsucker is a seriously slept-on indie gem.

Conor McMahon’s low-budget Irish chiller is incredibly minimalist, a stripped-back grounded exercise in supernatural suspense. The moody opening is immersed in the miry landscape of a sprawling peat farm, a lone old worker uncovering something skeletal buried beneath the packed sod. Later, a couple finds themselves stranded on the isolated roads around the farm; Mark and Sarah’s succinct introduction establishes charming chemistry, just enough playful bickering banter to humanize before their faithful night begins. Mark’s actor Stephen Cromwell gives a decent performance, but Niamh Algar (Censor, Wrath of Man, Calm With Horses) carries the film. A thin character on paper yet a resourceful survivor onscreen, put through the wringer but with such a tenacious intensity that you can’t not root for her.

That also aptly sums the film as well: a minimal scenario on paper, but one that acts as an accommodating canvas for 90 minutes of horror action. Seeking repairs for their car, Mark and Sarah soon stumble upon a decrepit farmhouse and McMahon begins the dusk-till-dawn cat-&-mouse thrills in earnest. Matches, candles, fridge lights, phone screens: our protagonists find themselves desperately wielding every possible light source against a mysterious creature of the night.

Refreshing vampire rules by making any light a deadly repellent allows for a wonderfully aggressive pace and acts as atmospheric boon. From the Dark sprints through its fraught dwindling-light set-pieces, consistently finding new scenarios to wring from the premise. Despite a few dips in pacing, the film maintains an anxious momentum, while focusing on its characters planning their next move and frantically keeping darkness at bay. The light-versus-shadows tension follows a somewhat repetitive cycle – fading light source, attack, scramble for new illumination – but that simplicity makes the variety in its survival-horror situations that much more impressive.

McMahon smartly keeps his monster as a figure lurking in the background, its shadowy Nosferatu-esque silhouette exuding an otherworldly air beyond that of your typical vampire. This cloaked desiccated stalker is a more elemental predatory breed, countering Sarah’s strategies with cunning and relentless menace. From the Dark’s bog-body revenant and gory special effects are actually quite effective considering the lower budget, sparingly used to punctuate the more visceral moments.

From the Dark could be criticized for a shallow narrative, for suffering from frenetic editing at times, for lacking characterization. And all that is true, yet all those factors contribute to its taut survive-the-night horror. Conor McMahon delivers tense monster thrills that escalate till the end credits, a precise construction that doesn’t continue a second more than necessary. Overall, this is a low-budget effort that understands its strengths and its limits, and unfolds within those bounds with clever confidence.

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