An off-beat, haunting, overwrought fairy tale for adults. This visually pleasing allegory ends on an apocalyptic note. It takes a stab at being an intelligent slasher movie for those who like their gore laced with some sensible dialogue to go along with its good and evil characterizations.
Darkly Noon (Brendan Fraser) is named for a saying in the Book of the Corinthians–“Now we see another through Darkly Noon.” He is a stuttering 17-year-old who escapes after his parents and their fanatic religious cult commune were unwarrantedly attacked by the prejudiced townies, killing his parents and the others in the group. He’s found lying unconscious in the woods by Jude (Loren Dean) and brought to Callie’s (Ashley Judd) isolated house in the woods. She’s a sexy blonde, given to wearing mini skirts and walking around without a bra (a Mary Magdaline figure!). She lives here with her mute boyfriend Clay (Viggo Mortensen), who is a carpenter (a Jesus figure!). He makes his living by selling the coffins he builds to the town’s undertaker Quincy (Myers).
Darkly (an evil beast figure!), who was brought up to believe in the strict literal interpretation of the Bible, is a tortured, psychologically abused young man. He is deeply struck by the physical attraction he has for Callie when he recovers from the attack in her presence; but, he is at the same time alarmed by her sinful attitude. When Clay returns after taking a walk in the woods for a few days, Darkly becomes jealously resentful of him and though he helps him build coffins, the two never really bond.
Callie’s sexual presence and free-spirited behavior sets off all Darkly’s repressions, and he is further fueled to rage when he meets a reclusive woman named Roxy (Zabriskie) living in a mobile home in the woods. She fills his head with malicious stories about Callie being a witch, and further tells the impressionable boy that she took Callie in to live with her when she found her abandoned in the woods and that Callie bewitched her son Clay into falling in love with her and also tempted her husband before killing him. When Darkly tells this to Callie she gives him a different version, saying that Roxy’s husband tried to rape her. But by this time Darkly’s dark side has gotten the best of him and in his confused and self-righteous state, he seeks the Lord’s vengeance.
Darkly starts seeing visions of his parents urging him to seek vengeance on Callie and to act according to the ways taught in the Bible. He is so twisted by his literal biblical beliefs that he punishes himself for the temptations of the flesh, as he wraps barbed wire around his body which causes him some pain and to bleed.
Smeared with blood and induced into a trance-like frenzy of hatred, he is now living in a cave Callie once took him to that has neolithic paintings and dense stalactites. As his rage becomes uncontrollable, he takes a sword and goes to do God’s vengeance against the innocent lovers.
The surreal forest sets the dark mood for Philip Ridley’s eerie and atmospheric film. What propels this film is not the slight story, but the bold interactions among the characters and the striking symbolic conflict over strict biblical interpretations versus a worldly sensual view of life. But the film just couldn’t wait to get to the slasher part fast enough, and that left very little time in the film’s middle to go into the brainy part. It left the film literally and figuratively going up in smoke by the finale.