Dark Days Movie Review
The tales of the so-called mole people are legendary, but they aren't particularly striking in these days of JonBenet Ramsey and mac & cheese on a stick. Nevertheless, Dark Days makes for a strong documentary about the subterranean subculture, the end result of an arduous, two-year production in which filmmaker Marc Singer lived among the moles in the tunnels.
Easily the most intriguing aspect of the 84-minute documentary is the community that has sprung up in the underground. Thanks to movies like Extreme Measures, one thinks of the moles as precisely that -- people that live like rats, subsisting on one another in a man-eat-man underworld. To see a "house" with walls, doors, furniture, a kitchen, TV, stolen electricity -- just about everything except running water -- is quite astonishing and unexpected. Singer's documentation of the day-to-day lives of the underground is remarkable and surprisingly familiar. Spaghetti and meatballs are prepared for dinner. Cornbread is baked. The driveway is swept. Roommates squabble about the mess. Oh, and they set up traps and train dogs to scare off the crackheads who lurk nearby. It just might be America's most dysfunctional neighborhood.
Singer also covers the de rigueur ground of how-they-came-to-live-here just as he documents the ultimate eviction of the mole people by the NYPD and Amtrak. This is less interesting than the slice-of-life aspect of Dark Days, if only because it seems like old ground, as callous as that sounds. Also, while the film is visually astounding considering how it was made, the sound production of the film is extremely uneven, as much of the dialogue is incomprehensible due to low volume combined with thick, slurred accents.
There's a tendency for people to judge movies like Dark Days based on how they were made rather than what's inside them. Singer's tales of living among the moles for two years, dumpster diving for food, enlisting his subjects to help out as crew, and building equipment as he needed it are all fascinating and impressive stories, but ultimately that kind of information needs to stand aside in order to look at the film for what it is. While Dark Days is certainly an interesting slice of life that's rarely been seen, it unfortunately never really gets to the meat of its subject matter, a la Crumb or Hoop Dreams. Still, it's a noble film worthy of attention.
Home sweet home.