I personally love when an experienced and talented actor in various other genres dips their toe into horror. Seriously, there is just something about the genre that allows actors to kind of go wild, so you will get some incredible performances ranging from the unhinged (looking at you Nicholas Cage) to the truly heart wrenchingly emotional. Perhaps it is the lack of expectations, but being in a horror film or series seems to give a freedom to actors that allow for depth and dimensions previously not seen before. Such is the case for Anna Camp in the Shudder original From Black.
From Black has a pretty simple premise. Camp plays Cora, a recovering drug addict who is burdened with her inability to properly care for her young son in the midst of her drug induced haze resulting in him going missing with only a single shoe left behind. Years have passed and by all accounts, her son is most likely long been dead. Thus, Cora exists, not lives, in a fugue state in which she basically just goes through the motions of working a subpar job, attending meetings, being occasionally informed of the ongoing missing persons case by her sister, and generally just suffering under the weight and trauma of her loss and inaction to do anything concerning her son.
After one of her addicts anonymous meetings, Abel (masterfully played by John Ales), the leader of the meetings, approaches Cora and, eventually, makes her an impossible offer: a chance to bring her son back from wherever he is. Of course, Cora doesn’t believe him. What he is claiming is literally impossible…right? Even so, Cora’s desperation and hope leads her to investigate the man’s claims of bringing back his own daughter. At first, this exchange seems like the delusions of two hurt and lost people, and for some time, this is what I thought the movie would be: a mourning woman’s mental breakdown and trauma. However, the supernatural element hits really quick when the pair begin to perform the ritual to resurrect Cora’s lost son and she begins to levitate. There is no trick or fiction or justification. This is simply some rite that must now be done.
The rest of the movie shows the progression of Cora’s preparations and performance of the ritual alongside her past mistakes coming back to haunt her and bite her in the ass. This continues with her sister becoming more and more concerned for her well being until the final day of the ritual comes. Cora learns what the ultimate cost of this resurrection truly is: to carry a dark entity inside her being until she finds and prepares a new vessel in the same manner that she was. While this is the literal exchange, it also can obviously act as a metaphor or analogy for dealing with and moving on from trauma. You will always carry it with you and you have to find a way to live with it and still live and exist in some way. The film ends with Cora finally accepting the Dark Entity, and, against all logic and belief, we see Noah, her son, return, missing shoe and all.
Overall the horror and monster elements of this film are not anything particularly noteworthy. They are not bad by any means, but I have seen more interesting and creative executions by independent studios like CryptTV. The music and audio choices are great. Honestly, it is just a well made and executed film. The best elements, bar none, are the performances from Anna Camp, John Ales, and their chemistry onscreen. Both Camp and Ales are fully engaging and carry the entirety of the film. I only put Camp slightly above because her character, Cora, goes through more of a full arc than Ales’ Abel who acts more as a wizened, old guide. From her first monologue (which is pretty soon in the film), you can feel the desperation and hopelessness and utter guilt and devastation Cora is feeling and understand, without hesitation, why she latches on to this ridiculous story. Of course, even after buying in, Cora is Cora and she still tries to find a workaround or loophole that lets her have her son without paying the full cost. And it follows from her characterization and previous choices perfectly.
Movies like From Black are the kind that I really enjoy. Not because of incredible effects or scares or moments, but because they show how strong a movie can be with just good performances and writing which this movie has in spades. So, if you are in the mood for a more mental horror film over jump scares and gore, would definitely recommend watching this one.