East End Film Festival: The Darkest Universe – Review

To the bereavement and bewilderment of their loved ones, thousands of people go missing every year. The phenomenon is strange, peculiar, and tragic. For some, they are scurried away by vile people and their identities are lost forever, out there without the home they once knew and living horrid lives. For others, they simply do not want to be found, as though they were lifted into another plane and their existence evaporated.

The point is that missing peoples and the impact their vanishing has on those close to them has always echoed of pain and mystery

Clever young filmmakers Will Sharpe and Tom Kingsley create an alluring, unusual, and utterly compelling film as The Darkest Universe that looks at those who simply disappear.

The film revolves around Zac, a young conservative banker whose eccentric younger sister Alice has gone missing alongside her boyfriend Toby. Being the last person to see her, waving them goodbye on Regent’s Canal, Zac is determined to find the couple – setting up a website and a daily vlog as well as trawling the rivers and canals of England to hunt them down. As the days drawl by, Zac’s efforts dwindle into desperation as the case looks harder and harder to solve.

Sharpe and Kingsley worked together previously on the BAFTA award winning film Black Pond but truly, with The Darkest Universe, they have crafted an intricate, visceral, and darkly comic dramatic piece. Whilst the ambiguous genre may placate the earnestness behind it, the pair navigate the uneasy waters to steer a truly masterful cinematic ship (or canal boat.) By combing an intriguing character study of Zac with the mysterious elements of Alice’s disappearance and the struggle to keep her name on the minds of investigating police and the public, the directing duo combine many different emotions – from the macabre to the mystical.

Though this atmosphere enhances an evocative watch and, indeed, puts Sharpe and Kingsley at the forefront of young British indie filmmaking, it’s the former’s performance as Zac that is really work investing in here. Juxtaposing his increasingly frenzied search for Alice with the events that led to that fateful day, the central character is fleshed out in a believable yet wrought manner. Intersecting the film with these two timelines shows an effortless understanding of the story as well as the character. Zac’s insistence on shaping Alice into a fully round contributing member of society almost paves the way for her to abscond with her kindred spirit Toby, as Zac disintegrates his own relationships whilst Alice’s flourish. It sets Zac on an even more desperate search and shapes the film into a stirring, unequivocally unique one that explores the characters at the centre of the story much more than the story that encompasses them.

The emotions surrounding The Darkest Universe is palpable and never overstretched. Every second beats with importance and it’s hard to not want to share in Zac’s misery by hoping, with unbridled anguish too, that Alice returns to her brother.

The Darkest Universe is a testament to British filmmaking of today and a complete must see.


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