The Passion of Darkly Noon came out of nowhere for me. I had never heard of it, which is strange considering the stellar 90’s cast including Ashley Judd, Brendan Fraser, and Viggo Mortensen. The film is directed by Philip Ridley who has thus far crafted three feature films which he claims are a lose trilogy connected more by character archetype than specific story. Ridley is an artists that works in a variety of mediums in the 90’s he came from the world of painting and photography to film and it shows in how he chooses to utilize film as a visual medium first and a character driven storytelling device in a distant second.
The plot if you will, follows Darkly a young man whose parents were killed by police during a raid on his family’s religious commune. Darkly escaped into the forest and eventually found his way to the home of Callie (Judd) a young woman living in a secluded home in the forest with her mute boyfriend (Mortensen). Callie decides to let Darkly live with them, keeping him almost like a pet.
The story that follows is a psychosexual fantasy allegory shrouded in what would eventually become an Instagram color filter. It’s like blending quiet character moments and score of Near Dark with harsh color decisions of something like Domino or some other Tony Scott film from the era. A successful fantasy allegory can be really tough to execute. If the direction and writing isn’t completely on point it can become a bizarre unintentional comedy or an elitist art school project. Sadly The Passion of Darkly Noon is the ladder. It has a lot to say culturally and politically but it makes these statements in spite of a compelling story. The film is elevated by Judd at times with her charisma and crushed other times with stilted dialogue from her and Fraser who also can’t seem to bring any real complexity to his character. The score for the film is also quite effective at various points in the film, elevating some scenes above the art first and acting second direction from Ridley.
At the end of the day The Passion of Darkly Noon has some very lofty goals and some inspired visual moments that make it work a look for fans of the actors and in particular for young art school students. It’s understandable why the film got the Arrow Films treatment because Ridley was going for something and he has a unique visual style that deserves praise. As an overall film experience though, it just doesn’t work.
As physical media proponents here we are always excited to see what Arrow Films has in store for us, and from a library presentation standpoint The Passion of Darkly Noon does not disappoint.
As I mentioned earlier the color grading for this film looks like an Instagram filter, but this film was made years before there was an Instagram. The sepia tone does evoke feelings of hot summer days and the blown whites and reds feel purposeful rather than any flaw from the transfer. This 2k transfer from film negatives was supervised by the director and it looks beautiful, even if for my tastes the colors are heavy handed.
The Dolby 5.1 presentation showcases the score with the music bouncing from speaker to speaker and emotionally swelling in the mix while never covering the dialogue. The overall mix wasn’t particularly dynamic but this film was not made in the era of Atmos. It sounds good, no distortion and clean dialogue with particular focus on the score.
The Packaging and Bonus Features
Arrow Film’s overall packaging style is quite classy and the punch of metallic lettering in the slip cover is a great nod to a random sparkly shoe that plays prominent in the film. The artwork is reversible with the original poster art on the inside. The original art is ugly, but beautiful too in that 90’s video store nostalgia way.
The highlight of the bonuses is the commentary by writer/director Philip Ridley. After watching the film I highly recommend a rewatch with the commentary track because you get a good sense from it where Ridley is coming from as a storyteller and what he was attempting to do with the film.
Sharp Cuts is an interview featurette with the film’s editor. There’s also an interview with the cinematographer. Watching these together you really get that film school, arthouse project vibe to the film. Finally there’s a featurette that’s composed of shots and images from Ridley’s films that discusses his career, each of his three features, and the voice he lends to his stories. All of these featuretttes together with the commentary actually made me appreciate the film a bit more and at a minimum respect what the creatives behind the film were attempting to do, even if as a whole it just doesn’t work.
Finally there’s an isolated score track, which is great because as I previously mentioned the score is one of the most consistently successful elements of the film. Watch this track and check out the included interview with the film’s composer. There are also some music demos here from the composer created before filming began. Fascinating to watch the building blocks of the film come together.
The Passion of Darkly Noon is a film filled with lofty visual ideas and social commentary all created to the detriment of an actual story. You have to respect what Ridley and his merry band were going for even if it doesn’t work. The film is a fascinating journey of a visual artist attempting to bring his creative eye to a different medium. The cast is solid and the score is effective, some of the visuals are quite striking too. Regardless of what you think of the actual film, Arrow showed it a lot of love and has brought us another archival, library quality release from video and audio presentation, to bonus features, and to the packaging.