In this, his second feature film, writer-director Philip Ridley revisits much of the same territory as his debut, the mesmerizing cult film, THE REFLECTING SKIN (1990), but to lesser effect. A similar message is watered down by weaker imagery and simpler execution that seem to indicate a
filmmaker afraid to give his vision full rein.
When he finds an unconscious young man in the woods, delivery man Jude (Loren Dean) takes him to a secluded house where Callie (Ashley Judd) agrees to care for him. His name, taken from the Bible, is Darkly Noon (Brendan Fraser), and he is the only survivor of a fundamentalist sect that was
massacred by villagers. Callie invites Darkly to stay and become part of a family with her and her mute lover, Clay (Viggo Mortenson).
Darkly becomes sexually attracted to the uninhibited Callie. Unable to express feelings he has been taught to repress, he vents his frustration by scourging himself with barbed wire.
In the woods, Darkly meets Roxie (Grace Zabriskie), an older woman who considers Callie an evil witch. She claims Callie bewitched her husband and her son--Clay. Callie says that Roxie has been unhinged since her husband died trying to rape her. But because he believes in witches, Darkly considers
this a possible explanation for the frustrations he feels. Upset by Darkly's increasingly bizarre behavior, Callie tells him to leave.
Roxie commits suicide, and Darkly discovers her body. He prays to his parents, who were killed in the massacre, for guidance. They appear and tell him that Callie is a witch who must be killed. At night, Darkly paints his body red, returns to the house and attacks Callie and Clay. With Darkly on
the verge of killing Callie, she screams, "I love you." Darkly hesitates, and is shot to death by Jude.
THE PASSION OF DARKLY NOON has much in common with THE REFLECTING SKIN: an isolated rural setting bathed in blinding sunlight; ubiquitous religious imagery; and a view of human sexuality as a mystifying, frightening possibility for an immature soul who has not yet experienced it. But while THE
REFLECTING SKIN was ominously suggestive about the nature of evil in the human spirit--imagine "The Turn of the Screw" mixed with THE WIZARD OF OZ (1939), with substantial debts to David Lynch and Peter Greenaway--THE PASSION OF DARKLY NOON is a relatively simplistic tract about the anti-human
nature of religion. The same general criticism applies to the entire production: every element seems a blander retread. The rural scenery--shot, surprisingly, in Germany--is lovely, but not so striking; Nick Bacat's score, which includes two eerie songs, sung by PJ Harvey and Gavin Friday, is
evocative, but not so spellbinding.
Of course, it's unfair to judge a work entirely in relation to another by the same filmmaker. On its own, THE PASSION OF DARKLY NOON would seem an intriguing but overwrought effort by a talented filmmaker who needs to focus on his goals. Viewed in tandem with THE REFLECTING SKIN, it seems more
likely that Ridley is mistakenly going in the opposite direction: he needs to give his imagination freer, rather than tighter, rein. (Graphic violence, nudity, sexual situations.)
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- Released: 1996
- Rating: R
- Review: In this, his second feature film, writer-director Philip Ridley revisits much of the same territory as his debut, the mesmerizing cult film, THE REFLECTING SKIN (1990), but to lesser effect. A similar message is watered down by weaker imagery and simpler e… (more)