"Straight Into Darkness" An Eerie, Gripping Tale

The DVD cover for "Straight Into Darkness"

 Events that define us as a planet have a far-reaching impact that can mark humanity for ages to come.  The years between 1937-1945, better known as World War II, was such a period highlighting the worst of human duality, and its capability for cruelness and hatred.  "Straight Into Darkness," a film released to DVD by Universal on the symbolic "day of the Beast"-June 6, 2006 (6-6-06-)--explores the transformation of two American military deserters during the dwindling days of World War II, and how sometimes, a shining light of hope can break through the darkness of despair.  

 Losey (Ryan Francis) is a young American GI with a troubled past.  Haunted by death and manslaughter, he goes AWOL, only to be recaptured and promised severe recourse for his insubordination.  By a more or less misfortunate twist of fate, his transport is caught in a minefield, and all but himself and an aggressive and angry soldier named Deming (Scott MacDonald) escape death.  Planting their dog tags on their fallen comrades, the two escape into the woods to start a new life unidentifiable to the rest of the world.

The fate of the two GIs turns suddenly macabre when the world they dive into becomes stranger than fiction.  The numerous untold Nazi horrors are manifested in a strange band of orphans, raised by their teachers Deacon (David Warner) and Maria (Linda Thorson), who humor the children with the view that the war is a game.  The strange coping mechanism leads to the training of the children into armed munchkin mercenaries, who take Losey and Deming hostage.  Only when the group is confronted by remnants of the Nazi army, however, are the characters of each tested, changed, and preserved through action.

Flamethrowers were used in WWII, and the historical accuracy is reflected in the film.

A trained artist in his field, director Jeff Burr has always been attracted to the sort of anti-war movies that "Straight Into Darkness" turns out as being, focusing less on real battle and more on the thoughts, emotions, and humanity of those involved.  Influenced heavily by the works of Sam Peckinpah, Samuel Fuller, and a critically under-recognized Robert Aldrich, Burr interjects the inheritance of these masters into his own films with a loving and caring hand, and spikes his work with the same sort of strange, biting thought-provocation needed within meaningful cinema. 

"The inspiration came from a visit to a Romanian orphanage in 1999, when I was making a movie called X-Treme Teens there," says director Jeff Burr of the inciting incidents that were to later spawn "Straight Into Darkness."  "A production assistant, Costel Musat, asked me to visit the orphanage where he grew up on my day off, and I met some amazing kids there that day; and that planted the seed."

 Some of the children that Burr met with that day ended up making the film as well, and provide the main thrust in terms of adding emotional attachment for the audience to the film.  Suffering from multiple afflictions, the children themselves pull the audience in, forcing sympathy for their plight.  Even understanding emerges, despite the violent dark sides that even children cannot manage to escape under trying circumstances. 

 One of the more unique individuals in the film, aside from a faceless girl who perpetually wears a flesh-colored mask, is a legless boy who's history is explained as having them amputated beneath a German tank.  Though not all of the children had real-life counterparts, this child in particular did, and also shares to this day a strong attachment with Burr. 

 

A battle scene from "Straight Into Darkness"

"The legless child, Nelu Viorel Dinu, I met on the street in Bucharest.  He couldn't speak good English, and my Romanian was not so good, but we sorted out that we would meet that next day at the same place on the street, in front of the Intercontinental Hotel.  His spirit was amazing, and it seemed like we bonded instantly," says Burr of one of the personalities that made the film.  "I still see him, and as a matter of fact, just saw him in Bucharest last week. He is almost 18 now, and we are trying to bring him to the States to have doctors look at him."

Though story overshadows historical accuracy in importance in "Straight Into Darkness," the filmmakers did not overlook the reality of the historical roots on which this narrative is based.  The look of the time period was of particular importance to the production design, especially in the costuming and props.  Authentic looking down to the very clothing and weaponry of the era (including flamethrowers used in the war), the forethought and planning is evident.

 Aside from production design, perhaps one of the most notable aspects of "Straight Into Darkness" is the obvious effort to create a very unique style and look in its cinematography, achieved by director of photography Viorel Sergevici.  A series of flashbacks intertwine themselves throughout the film to haunt the protagonist, including memories of a lost love and a dark past.  These scenes are so vividly remarkable from the rest of the film that the aesthetic effect would be impossible not to note, taking on a grainier, almost noisier look reminiscent of early, primitive home video recording. 

 "I work sometimes on an instinctive, primitive level, even though I am trained, and can't answer reasons for doing things that I do," Burr says of his collaboration with Sergevici to create the layered, complex look of the film, "...but a lot of the transitions etc., didn't happen by accident." 

 The stirring feelings and emotions drudged up by the film affect audiences to the core with sometimes disturbing, yet always thought-provoking images and ideas.  Yet, for a cinematic essay so full of meaning, the director concedes to a lack of any symbolic intention--at least any state symbolic intention--insisting upon the interpretation of the individual viewer as having the supreme importance of a cinema-going experience. 

 "I am the last person who should say what anything means' ," says Burr, insisting upon the independent thought necessary for the viewer to take away something truly meaningful from the film.  "I really don't talk about the symbolism...believe me when I say this film bubbled up out of my unconscious, and spilled out over the screen.  ' I want the viewer to have an interactive experience with the film and bring whatever they can to the film with no preconceived notions." 

 

Deming and Losey, being held hostage by the child mercenaries.

Every viewer can certainly pull something new and different out of 'Straight Into Darkness', as the film is just as unique as an individual.  Its thumbprint is difficult to identify, but the feelings it dredges up make it unmistakably inescapable in the mind.  If anything, it definitely meets Burr's greatest hope to stay with the audience long after the lights have gone up.

 "I just hope that this film sticks with people's memories...that they can't forget parts of the movie.  Some of the good comments I have gotten about the film is that people are still thinking about it days later...what more can you ask for!"


 

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