Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Dark World (orig. Темный мир / Temnyy Mir) [2010]

MPAA (UR would be R)  Fr. Dennis (3 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing listing* listing* listing* listing* (P. Favorov) review* (A. Yushchenko) review* (X. Rozhdestvenskaya) review* (A. Strelkov) review* (R. Korneev) review* (D. Zhigalov) review* (Leonid Marantidi) review* (L. Lavrushina) review* (V. Matizen) review* (S. Mezenov) review* (I. Perun) review* (S. Stepnova) review* (E. Chekulaeva) review* (O. Zintsov) review*

Dark World (orig. Темный мир / Temnyy Mir) [2010] [IMDb] []*[]*[]* (directed by Anton Megerdichev [IMDb] []*[]*[]*, screenplay by Aleksey Sidorov [IMDb] []*[]*[]* and Aleksandr Dorbinyan [IMDb] []*[]*) is a spectacularly good (and fun) Russian young-adult oriented film that I included in my 2015 Russian Film Tour that would be immediately recognizable to American/Western audiences as a conflation of some of the the conventions of a 1980s-era "mad slasher" film ("a group of rambunctious college students go for a weekend to ... and ...") with the more recent more developed heroine-driven Twilight / Beautiful Creatures / Mortal Instruments genre.

Add then a little LOTR / Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon [2000] magic / fight scenes (the presence of the "Eastern stuff" is fascinating BUT Russia is "Eastern Europe / EURASIA" after all ;-), some pretty cool/fascinating and arguably subversive "X-Files-style" conspiracy stuff, and a LOT of Russian (Eurasian, specifically Finno-Ugric) folklore ... and this becomes one honestly fascinating "soup" for both magic / horror-anticipating young adults and "pop culture" folklorists / enthusiasts to see.

In the story, a group of Russian college students (presumably from Saint Petersburg, though the famous edifice of Moscow State University is shown at the film's end) go with their philology/cultural anthropology professor (played by Vladimir Nosik [IMDb] []*[]*) on a trip to the deep woods of (nearer to Saint Petersburg than to Moscow) Karelia on an "folkloric" (ethnographic) expedition.

The scenery itself is spectacular, filmed largely in and around Ruskeala Mountain Park outside of the town of Sortovala in Karelia.  To get to their destination, the student group first travels by train, then by bus, and finally for some time by foot through a deep ever-misty, moss covered forest, arriving at a woodland hut of an old, indeed ancient-looking but definitely impression-making woman (played wonderfully by Tatyana Kuznetsova [IMDb] []*[]*) ever dressed in white, with her auburn hair ever braided and under a veil with a snow-white husky (her familiar?) at her side.  Folks, if one is serious about doing cultural anthropology, this is EXACTLY the kind of person that one would seek-out to talk to.  So good job Professor Sergey Rudolfovich!

However, we're talking about a student trip here.  So ... :-)

... Well, there's this red-haired Goth girl named Marina (played by Svetlana Ivanova [IMDb] []*[]*).  She's kind of a loner, likes to freak-out her room-mates with loud headbanging music and weird gothic looking art, and while not terrible as an athlete (apparently all the students have to play at least some kind of intramural sport) it's clear that she doesn't really give a damn.  AS A GOTH, folklore / mythology would kinda be her thing (so she's in the right class / on the right trip).   Yet, AS A GOTH, she can't really show that she's particularly "interested" in that either ... (it kinda sucks being _intentionally_ moody ;-).

Now what (or more to the point WHO) she's really into (and yes it's kinda a contradiction, but SHE'S YOUNG / IN COLLEGE, so she can still be a PILE OF CONTRADICTIONS ;-) is "a really hot guy" on campus, named Artur (played by Ilya Alekseev [IMDb] []*[]*).

... Now Artur objectively HOT as he is, and while not entirely ill disposed to a pretty "exotic" / in her own right HOT-looking red-headed "Goth" classmate like Marina who's into him, HAS THIS DROP-DEAD GORGEOUS "Model Material" (in the U.S. we would say CHEERLEADER CLASS") BLONDE named Vika (played by Mariya Kozhevnikova [IMDb] []*[]*) "hanging on him" as well.   So ... what's Artur supposed to do?  Here he has these TWO beautiful, both arguably "higher maintenance" (in their own ways) young women interested in him -- one perhaps "deeper" / "a little more exotic", the other, drop-dead gorgeous with a "Vogue magazine looks" interested in him.   Ah ... it's awesome being awesome ;-)  And "ripped" as he is, he's probably the school's star hockey player as well...

Well ... so there they are at this woodland hut, after dinner.  Marina decides to "step outside for a bit," sits herself down on a lovely rock some 50 feet from the cabin, overlooking a beautiful mountain stream ... in the moonlight ... and ... Artur, rip-muscled and shirtless, "comes by." They start chit-chatting, then making-out, then ...

"HEY! What you doing there!" the old lady in white, coming out the door with a pale of water from the evening's dishes calls out, more than a little-irritated that she's run into two half-naked city-slicker college students making-out 50 feet from her otherwise pristine fair-tale home, admittedly illuminated by shimmering moonlight as the mountain stream rippled down the cascade behind them with ever present mist gliding all around them.  Yes, this would have been one magical place to ...

Anyway, interrupted there by the old lady, with jealous drop-dead gorgeous Vika rushing-out two steps behind her ... Marina, embarrassed, gathers herself together, straightens herself out a bit, and then runs-off into the woods to catch her breath ... and cry.  Shirtless yet ever awesome, Artur, like a stag trapped between two gorgeous headlights, Vika throwing daggers at him with her eyes and Marina running off into the forest to cry, doesn't know what to do.  So he just stays there, shirtless but in the moonlight, perhaps a bit confused but still looking awesome ... while the class "good guy" / nerd (in Russian they dismissively call him "a botanist" as in studying for a hard but utterly irrelevant degree) Kostya (played by Ivan Zhidkov [IMDb] []*[]*), "Nikon digital SLR"-like camera ever around his neck, runs out after Marina ... to see if she's alright.

Kostya soon catches up with her, and of course she's not entirely alright, but as they walk / talk, she progressively "gets better" ... But then the find that they walked quite a ways ... and ... begin to see that they are lost.

Though initially all discombobulated, "Were they about to do what we think they were about to do?" after a while, the rest of the group settles down at the cabin.  But when Kostya and Marina don't seem to be coming back, they start getting worried, now about them.  So ... after a while, they all go out as a party to look for them, good-natured Prof included (ever smiling, though he's had a busy day / evening, no doubt spending the past 1/2 hour apologizing to the still possibly pagan or perhaps now Christian but certainly rather conservative old lady at whose home they are all staing, for his two randy :city-slicker" charges who apparently were going to go at it, there right, in front of her doorstep ... "Well you know, hormones ...").

So now _the whole party_, Marina and Kostya, and then the rest of the group, Prof included, were out there in the moss covered woods, at night, ever present mist, swiring all about.  So this could not be good ... And it soon, wasn't ...

Out there, at night, in the misty, shimmering moonlight, Marina and Kostya come to what appears to be an ancient cemetery, with some kind of a woodland chapel beside it.  'Cept the cemetery seems to be so old that the grave markers don't seem to be Christian and the chapel itself seems to be of a pagan or at least syncretic stripe.  When they enter and look around, Marina falls through the rotting floor ... into a subterranean level opens into a cave, which now clearly seems to be some sort of a ancient pagan shrine, with all sorts of petroglyphs painted on the walls.

As Marina walks along the looking for a way back up, Kostya drops down to her level to try to help her get out as well.  He's astounded by the petroglyphs and starts snapping pictures left and right.  Marina then enters a chamber in which at its center is seated the mummy of some ancient warrior (woman?) with a spear and shield in her hands.  Startled, Marina trips, crashes into the mummy.  And as she falls to the ground, the mummy falling-upon her appears to breathe on her whereupon Marina passes out.  Kostya, with his trusty camera in hand, captured it all on video.  But of course he doesn't save her from passing out.

What now?  Placing the passed out, and otherwise now strangely sickly looking Marina on the shield, he starts to drag her out, and starts to call out for help.  The rest of the group, not too far behind them, arriving at the ancient cemetery hears him, and in quick order (Artur, after all, is "ripped") get Marina out of the chapel, carrying her out on that shield.

But she's still passed out, so they need to call for help.  Now mind you, this is summer and they're located in Karelia, north of St. Petersburg, so if it was ever really dark, light would come soon.  The question was to simply get her to a clearing and have the good natured Prof Sergey Rudlofovich to call on his satellite phone for help.  They get her to a clearing ... he calls for help ... help arrives ...

'Cept ... the "help" that arrives with a BLACK HELICOPTER, with these black uniformed skin-heady "special forces" types jumping out of it.  RUSSIAN they are, BUT they DON'T exactly look like regular "Russian Army."  Who the heck are they?  And are they there really to help?  No ... having intercepted the Prof's call for help, and having heard "pagan chapel," "mummy" and "shield," they called "up the(ir) command" and were ordered by their HIGHER-UP to GET THE SHIELD. 

The rest of the film follows ... ;-)

Now again, who were they?  Well their "higher up" becomes a wonderfully drawn character.  Nominally, he was Alexander (played by Sergey Ugryumov [IMDb] []*[]*) and even a Russian government official, the Minister of Mining or something or another.  Indeed, when HE arrives on the scene after his special forces men in black uniforms with their black helicopters took custody of the shield (along with this group of cultural anthropology students...) one of the students, perhaps, "the nerd" Kostya exclaims: "Hey aren't you ... the Minister of ..." to which Alexander answers, "Yes, yes, I do that as a hobby ..."  No, Alexander's more than just a random government minister in a random Russian government existing in a random Epoch of time.  Alexander is actually a 2500 year old Uralic wizard named Ylto Vallo who has spent the better part of those 2500 years _looking for that shield_ because the soul of his father a grand wizard of his tribe was trapped within the labyrinth imprinted on its (the shield's) face.  He was trapped there as a consequence of a battle between his people and that of the Finnic warrior witch whose mummy they had stumbled upon.

Well he now has the shield, but he needs the precise incantation to set him free.  Learning that when Marina literally stumbled upon the mummy of that warrior witch, the witch apparently "breathed on her" (causing her to pass out), he becomes convinced that she'd "know the magic words."  But ... she doesn't ... or else it's hazy.

What she needs to do is _become a witch_ to come to understand what she was told.  Well, how would one _become a Finnic witch_ in the current day?? 

Well, "the old lady ever dressed in white with her snow white dog as a familiar" that they had met COULD HELP.  And ... she does ... but she tells her/them ... "Look, I'm just a guardian here, you really need to find the 'witches of the lake'" and then points them in the general direction of where, if they are (Marina is) worthy, she could find them ...

Much, in often spectacularly beautiful / imposing scenery still ensues ...

And then all the while the question becomes: Is it REALLY "a good idea" to liberate the soul of a wizard trapped in a shield for 2500 years, when the wizard's son, doesn't seem to exactly be a "prince of goodness and light"?  He operates a secret army out of a secret  Bond Villain / Area-51 like compound out there in the Karelian wilds with his disciplined skin-heady troops in black special forces-like uniforms flying black helicopters after all ...

Anyway, it all makes for one heck of a story, and ... like the Twilight Saga, produced two sequels ;-)

HOW TO FIND THE FILM?  The film as well as the two sequels are all quite easily available, in Russian, on the internet and the English subtitles for them can be found on the website.

Folks, especially young adults, this is one spectacularly good / fun contemporary Russian "Twilight Saga-ish" story, well worth the effort to find ;-)

* Reasonably good (sense) translations of non-English webpages can be found by viewing them through Google's Chrome browser. 

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