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The Most Original Monster Movie Of 2023 is Finally Streaming

Out of darkness comes a survival-thriller-turned-monster-movie.

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A group of desperate survivors flee across a dangerous, inhospitable landscape. Somewhere in the shadows, a mysterious creature is stalking them. As the danger closes in, our protagonists descend into panic and paranoia, culminating in several gruesome deaths.

Perfected by films like Predator and Alien, it’s a classic monster movie formula. With its Final Girl protagonist and bursts of brutal violence, the 2023 horror thriller Out of Darkness also draws a lot of inspiration from the slasher genre. However its unusual setting offers an ambitious twist on these familiar tropes. Filmed in the Scottish Highlands, it’s a survival horror story set 45,000 years in the past, in a bleak landscape where starvation is a very real possibility.

Immersing us even further in this prehistoric atmosphere, director Andrew Cumming opted for a unique storytelling choice: All of the film’s dialogue is spoken in a neolithic constructed language known as Tola. Unsurprisingly, this somewhat challenging premise did not result in box office success. But with the film’s arrival on Paramount+ this week, it’s ready to find a new audience.

Out of Darkness couches a grim horror story in the framework of prehistoric legend. Its opening scenes see the six main characters tell tales around a campfire, mythologizing their perilous decision to break away from a larger community and settle in a new home. Their leader Adem (Chuku Modu) pitched this as a heroic journey to a promised land, but so far they’re struggling to find food and shelter. Their fire is a lonely dot of light in a barren plain, and Adem’s wife Ave (Iola Evans) is heavily pregnant, adding yet another concern to their arduous trek. The sense of isolation is terrifyingly oppressive.

Even before a monster starts tracking them through the wilderness, tensions are high. The unpleasantly macho Adem grows more aggressive and controlling, and his followers begin to turn on each other in desperation. Yet our protagonist Beyah (Safia Oakley-Green) has no choice but to stick around. Venturing off alone would be a death sentence, even if she’s more sensible than some of her compatriots.

Making the most of its gorgeous yet intimidating outdoor locations, Out of Darkness is an impressive work of low-budget filmmaking. It’s also a film that probably wouldn’t exist without Robert Eggers’ The Witch, which thrilled horror fans with its distinctive approach to historical authenticity. Like The Witch, Out of Darkness invites us into a forbidding physical environment, set in a period with different values and struggles to our own. And like The Witch, it embraces the supernatural beliefs of its main characters. To Beyah or Adem, a demonic presence is an entirely plausible explanation for their problems.

Director Andrew Cumming framed the film’s defining thesis as a question: "Have humans survived because of our own inhumanity?" We see similar themes unfold in apocalyptic horror stories where characters sacrifice each other to stay alive, or endanger their peers by hiding a zombie bite. Likewise the core cast of Out of Darkness can be tough and cruel, twisted by fear of an outside foe. But in order to discuss this topic any further, we need to touch on some spoilers for the film’s third act.

The monster of Out of Darkness remains mostly sight unseen.

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Toward the end of the film, we learn that the beast stalking our human protagonists isn’t as supernatural as they assume. In fact, it’s a neanderthal person in a ritualistic costume, revealing that this land isn’t uninhabited after all — it’s home to another humanoid society.

At this point the perspective shifts to a very different game of cat-and-mouse, as our human protagonists hunt down the neanderthal’s family. Rather than being a story about survival in a strange land, it’s now a parable about colonization, with humans as an explicitly disruptive and invasive species. Their fear of the unknown turns them into vicious murderers, making Adem’s role an even more obvious commentary on toxic masculine leadership.

It’s an interesting twist, but one I personally found a little too on-the-nose. Out of Darkness isn’t aiming for historical (or rather prehistorical) accuracy, but the reality is that humans and neanderthals coexisted for thousands of years. By mapping this relationship onto a modern view of racial/colonial conflicts, the story enters some awkwardly moralizing territory in its final act.

That being said, Out of Darkness is an accomplished debut feature. Andrew Cumming brings a unique angle to a classic horror formula, bolstered by beautifully photographed locations and an engaging cast of little-known actors. It’s a true original — and undeniably effective at building an atmospheric sense of dread.

Out of Darkness is now streaming on Paramount+.

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