Slamdance 2021 Review: A BLACK RIFT BEGINS TO YAWN, Pensive Cosmic Horror
Laura and Lara are investigating a set of cassette tapes left behind by a former now deceased professor. The tapes are said to contain recordings of strange signals from the cosmos. As they listen to the recordings they begin to sense that something strange is happening to them. Were these signals the cause of the professor’s death? What will happen to them if they continue to listen to these recordings?
The roots of A Black Rift Begins to Yawn began with director Matthew Wade’s dive into the Dark Knight conspiracy theory. The core of the theory is that there is an alien satellite over one of the poles, hidden by the government, that emits extraterrestrial signals. Wade’s intention was to write a novel about it but as time went on he felt that it fit better into a film format. Thus we have his new cosmic horror film.
Wade’s second feature film is like no other cosmic horror film before it. Rather than make a work of sensationalism he chooses the path of the atmospheric, perhaps even vagueness, to conjure an underlying sense of dread. About what we do not know. Wade chooses to weave the slight story of the two girls around long takes of vistas and landscapes. It is here, accompanied with a score created by Wade, a sort of cathedral roll of sound, that he achieves it. As sound is a key factor in the experience of the girls and the catalyst by which they brush with the cosmos, Wade also intends for sound to have an effect on the viewer. He stretches these moments for maximum effect.
Wade’s work with cinematographer Lila Streicher is terrific, there is no doubt about it. A Black Rift has the official color spectrum of cosmic horror, tinkered with by Wade himself in post. Brilliant hues of pink, blue and red stake claims throughout the frame, hypertexturizing and alienizing the enviroments. It helps with the calm dread that builds with each lengthy pause to take in the surroundings, like the threat is always there, lying in wait, for someone to discover it.
Likewise, careful choices of composition help tell the tale as well. For example the story has many long takes of the girls standing on the veranda of the cabin, staring off into the distance. Many of them. When the moment comes when the paths of Laura and Lara diverge, before their realization of what events are unfolding and Wade uses something as simple as a wall of the veranda as a visual cue to show that.
Then there is The Searcher, the only other character in this minimalist horror flick. There is no shortage of long takes of The Searcher, well, searching in their scene, a slice of midway respite. What he finds will play a part in the girls’ journey though there is nothing obvious about what he finds during his short scene. Ah, the mystery continues to build about events around these tapes.
A Black Rift also contains what may be one of most sensible reactions to a threat in any branch of horror, going against conventions and tropes and are meant to build fear-filled moments. What follows that is a bit befuddling and confusing but I tip my hat to Wade for his interpretation of a 'nope' moment.
It may be to its detriment that A Black Rift Begins to Yawn is largely composed for mood and atmosphere and light on discourse. Mysterious through to the end, lacking a definitive answer to what the girls experienced I can see there being frustration with its conclusion, dare I say even its execution. As mentioned before the story is slight and A Black Rift's refusal to be saddled with other cosmic horror films before it makes it stand out and stand apart. It is a pensive cosmic horror that is build around observation over engagement.
However, if you are looking for cinema that is pure experience this is the space that A Black Rift occupies.
A Black Rift Begins to Yawn
- Matthew Wade
- Matthew Wade
- Sara Lynch
- Luke Massengill
- Saratops McDonald