How one reacts to this film from Mexico will depend on what one prioritizes when it comes to watching movies. Do you watch movies for their plot or do you watch them for their style? Do you care about what the filmmaker has to say or do you just want to see how they say it?
Of course, this doesn’t have to be an either/or situation. Just because a film is heavy on style, that doesn’t mean that it’s thematically shallow. At the same time, just because a film has something to say, that doesn’t mean that it has to be dry and boring. It’s just that, in the case of Dark Forces, the film is almost all style and that seems to be by design.
The plot of Dark Forces is not always easy to follow and what can be followed is often pure nonsense. A former (or maybe current, it’s never really clear) criminal named Max (Mauricio Aspe) is searching for his sister, who is being held hostage by a gangster. Max checks into a hotel and searches for clues to where he sister is being held. There are a variety of eccentric people living in the hotel, some of whom appear to be supernatural in origin and some of whom are probably just sleazy hotel denizens. There’s a mysterious, femme fatale-style waitress. There’s an albino who is also a psychic because movies like this always seem to feature an albino psychic. And then there’s this mysterious man played by transgressive filmmaker Nick Zedd. Zedd’s character is named Demonio and he says that he can help Max for a price and can you guess what’s going on?
So, if you’re watching for a coherent plot, you’ll probably be disappointed. If you allow yourself to get in any way emotionally invested in Max’s quest, you’ll probably be disappointed. Narratively, Dark Forces somehow manages to be both totally incoherent and totally predictable at the same time. That’s such an accomplishment but I can’t help but think that it was somewhat intentional on the part of the filmmakers.
Where Dark Forces succeeds is as an exercise in pure style. Between the Argento-inspired lighting scheme, the combination of neon and shadows, the constantly skewed camera angles, and the dream-like mix of flashback and the present (or, at least, I assumed some of what I saw in the movie was meant to be a flashback), Dark Forces plays out like an extremely flamboyant dream. Visually, it’s enjoyable to take in and, at 81 minutes, it ends right before all of the stylistic excesses gets exhausting. Unfortunately, all of that style doesn’t make it any easier to follow the plot but at least there’s always something to look at.
Anyway, Dark Forces is a film that I obviously had mixed feelings about. The plot annoyed me but the film’s visual style held my attention. At its best, the film is vibrant pop art. At its worse, it’s an empty exercise in tilting the camera. As to whether or not you enjoy this film, it all depends on what matters the most to you, style or coherence.