Writer/director Todd Solondz returns after a brief 3-year hiatus with Dark Horse (2011) – a film that takes a darkly droll approach into exploring the darker side of human behaviour. The film centres on Abe (Jordan Gelber), a socially awkward, overweight and toy collector thirty-something who lives in the confines of his parents’ house (Christopher Walken and Mia Farrow) and works for his father’s real estate firm.
When he happens across Miranda (Selma Blair), a pretty yet deeply depressed and wounded woman, he believes he may have found a new lease for life and within a few days proposes marriage. However, as the two go about planning their all-too speedy wedding, it becomes clear that the damage existing in both of them may be more as easily remedied as they once thought.
In offering a film that focuses exclusively on the unattractive traits exhibited by Abe and the overwhelming potential they have to ruin his life and shatter both his mind and soul, as well as the intense yet inherently miserable and ineffectual relationship he shares with the equally troubled Miranda, Solondz’s Dark Horse succeeds, and is even moderately refreshing in its no-holds approach. It’s dark and scratchy, but with the right amount of humour, most of which come from the many awkward mishaps Abe has, for it to have that authentic edge.
Unfortunately, as the narrative progresses and Abe starts to retreat more and more into his subconscious (one populated by a temptress version of his father’s secretary, played effectively by Donna Murphy), Dark Horse rapidly loses its weight and falls into repetitive mode. These sequences are undoubtedly experimental in their attempts to represent a man slowly relinquishing his will, yet they offer nothing that even remotely adds any worth to the overall thrust.
The performances stop Dark Horse from falling from grace completely, and Solondz’s light approach and glimmering direction acts as a nice contrast to the murky subject-matter that percolates the entire film. It also offers up some uncomfortable home truths and probe into the darker side of life, particularly in highlighting how some people’s lives simply don’t lead to anything worthwhile, whatever the reason. However, it’s all downplayed somewhat by a monotonous trip through the subconscious, an inconsistent and increasingly unoriginal narrative and an altogether weak conclusion.