Dark Tourist opens with a man sitting in a shady apartment, cracking and salting a boiled egg, then smoking a cigarette with the thing filling his gob. Not since De Niro’s Cyphre chowed down whole eggs in Angel Heart, has it been so eerie and fitting to watch a man consume chicken ovulations. Scenes like this are hardly sparse in Suri Krishnamma’s Dark Tourist, a film so seedy and dark it probably taints your soul to watch. Take that as no hint of lacking quality though, the film is beautiful and poignant as much as its upsetting.
Jim (Michael Cudlitz) is a grief tourist, someone who goes to crime scenes, the birth places of serial killers, and other such awful places in order to catalogue and photograph. When Jim heads off on his next vacation, he has no idea of the danger he is putting himself, and others, in.
Cudlitz brings both deplorable presence and fractured psyche to a role practically written for him. Like Glenn Maynard in Stuart Simpson’s fantastic Chocolate Strawberry Vanilla, Cudlitz finds subtle ways to evoke our absolute sympathy for his damaged grief-tourist, even when things go off the deep-end. Similarly, David Mathews 30 minute short Murderbilia deals with similar issues to Dark Tourist in a condensed format and is an interesting alternate version. Melanie Griffith is one of few pleasant characters in the film, her particular brand of sickly sweet making her a perfect juxtaposition to Cudlitz’ brooding, cynical loner. Happily, Pruitt Taylor Vince pops up too lending his considerable credentials to play the grown-up version of the killer Jim is obsessing about.
The overexposure of the daylight sequences and sun filled outdoor shots actually helps make Dark Tourist‘s muggy inside shots and night-time sequences vaguely nightmarish. Krishnamma’s composure of this sleazy little fever-dream is exquisite, summoning up the depths of despair with startling clarity. The choice of location is impeccable and, like the camera work, it unites the film into one very distinct vibe of rot and pain. The abandoned church, the motel overrun with evicted homeowners and junkies, the power plant where Jim works, it’s all shot in a documentary style realism with careful attention to the shadows. These greasy decrepit moods are born out of simple but effective camera work and natural lighting.
By the end of Dark Tourist, reality has collapsed for Jim pushing him into a dark head-space of nightmarish nostalgia. When the credits roll, the never-ending spiral of morbid curiosity has been renewed and all the characters we’ve met along the journey have been shaken to their core. The fantastic scripting and dialogue, between even the most rudimentary characters, allows us to understand what those people mean to Jim and vice-versa by the end of this dark tale.
Dark Tourist is a stunningly sordid tale of degradation and psychological collapse told with firm unyielding determination. Cudlitz delivers a stellar turn, stealing the show at every moment with his ravenous food-fetishizing whilst the camera work and setting ensure the story looks as great as it is.
Dir: Suri Krishnamma
Stars: Michael Cudlitz, Melanie Griffith, Pruitt Taylor Vince