Donkerster is a film that brings two things to the table: an astounding atmosphere and one terrific performance from young actress Adriana Bakker. This gorgeous-looking film oozes a richness that balances the weighty story fantastically well.
When her father goes missing, young Rhena (Adriana Bakker) enters the woods to seek out a mythological creature believed to collect the stories of dying beings.
There is just so much emotional weight to Donkerster that it even weighs down you as an audience member. The sombre nature of Frank van den Boggaart’s film is clear from the first second the film starts, and it never leaves you until long after the credits have finished. For only his second film, he shows an absurd amount of confidence as a filmmaker and already has me in search of his first short, Dryad.
Donkerster is like the darkest of fairytales; when someone is about to pass on in death, they seek a tree in the forest that keeps their stories inside for others to hear long after they are gone. But here, we see a scenario of what happens when the young daughter of someone seemingly to do this refuses to let them go as easy. While mythical, it is a fairly straightforward story about grief, being one that immediately enthrals you. In other filmmakers’ hands, it would not be as powerful, yet van den Boggaart has been able to make everything click so well.
The idea that the heart is what holds all of our stories and memories is great, allowing for striking imagery towards the end and a horrible conundrum for young Rhena. Adriana Bakker is phenomenal; nothing short will describe her here. She must carry all of the emotion in the film, and as we watch her in that static final shot, we are as broken as her as she makes the only decision she can. Her arc of accepting the loss of her father is fascinating as we are seeing it from the child’s side. She loves her father, and although mistakes may come because of that. That love holds true forever.
When it comes to the horror within Donkerster, it is very much in the psychological horror mindset. However, that doesn’t stop the film from bringing in some gruesome moments, even when, in the end, the horror returns to the emotional side. Please make no mistake, Rhena is a tormented girl, and despite the mythological or fairytale aspects, you relate to it and almost wish that what the myth is, is true in our world.
I couldn’t really recommend a film any more than I do with Donkerster. This Belgian film hits you to your core with affecting acting and storytelling. A faultless short that you need to search out for.
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