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MOVIES: Darkland - Review [Fantasia 2017]

Fenar Ahmad's brooding revenge drama Darkland centers on successful surgeon Zaid (Game of Thrones alum Dar Salim), an Iraqi immigrant living in Denmark and expecting his first child with loving wife Stine (Stine Fischer Christensen). When Zaid's ne'er-do-well younger brother Yasin (Anis Alobaidi) shows up on his doorstep begging for money to settle a debt, Zaid turns him away - a decision that leaves him guilt-stricken when a comatose Yasin is brought to the hospital the following day, beaten within an inch of his life.

Forced to lay his sibling to rest, Zaid becomes obsessed with the investigation, and increasingly frustrated with its lack of progress in finding the perpetrators. After a brutal encounter with the drug dealer for whom Yasin worked, Zaid elects to take matters into his own hands, roaming the city in a hood, mask and bulletproof vest and beating street-level punks to a pulp on his quest to track down the gang's mastermind, an underground fight promoter named Semion (Ali Sivandi).

While the narrative shares similarities with pop culture fare like The Punisher, on a stylistic level Darkland feels more closely related to Nicholas Winding Refn's Drive. Both films share a quiet, charismatic lead, a synth-infused score and a haunting atmosphere where long bouts of calm are punctuated by extreme acts of violence, all carried out in the name of love. There's also an interesting undercurrent of racial tension that permeates the film, as Zaid's fellow immigrants refer to him as "white man" for his perceived willingness to erase his Iraqi identity while assimilating into the Danish culture, but this thread isn't explored as deeply as it could have been.

Salim does a remarkable job showcasing the grief and rage simmering just below the surface of his mild-mannered facade, and even when doling out punishment he never ceases to feel like a genuine person - a point that is repeatedly driven home by the numerous injuries he sustains during his extracurricular activities. And Sivandi makes for an effective villain, a shrewd manipulator unafraid to get his hands dirty when he's been pushed to the limit.

Despite following a tried-and-true formula about an upstanding member of society driven to violence after the death of a loved one, Darkland nevertheless feels fresh enough to be worth a look. The shimmering, neon-lit city makes for a gorgeous backdrop, and the cast deftly shoulders to emotional weight of the narrative without skimping on the action that audiences will be looking for.

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