Dark Horse by Todd Solondz Reviewed: Despite Fast Start, Film Falls to Back of the Pack

Dream sequences in films are very rarely useful; given that cinema is itself malleable enough to contain any experience the director wants to impose upon a character, why must we waste time seeing the character’s imagined experiences? Characters from the film appear like ghosts to torment Abe. The viewer knows with certainty that they are not there, and knows too that any chance of truly understanding Abe through his interactions with others has passed. There is not merely more satisfaction in watching the way Abe moves through the world; there’s unpleasant alienation in having the straightforwardness of Dark Horse snatched away in favor of an arch, overdetermined fantasy that proves only that life is brutal.

The film presents Abe with two variations on the same ending, one apparently real and one imagined. Neither of them provide Abe happiness, though one provides him the chance to think of himself as a doomed romantic idealist. His romance with Miranda is no romance at all, it turns out. This narrative turn is neutral vis-a-vis the film’s quality, but the manner in which it isn’t dealt with—after revealing a dangerous secret, Miranda just fades out of the narrative—is deflating. Shouldn’t Abe have fought for her, or fought with her?

While no one should expect a happy ending from a Todd Solondz movie, the film’s initial vigor and commitment to a muscular realism is exciting. However, the manner in which Dark Horse shifts back into the same fantastically unreal dourness is an unhappy ending indeed. While every director has his or her own style, Mr. Solondz’s has worn thin; his halfway realization that there are new ways he might tell stories is not enough to make Dark Horse the film it almost was.

Dark Horse

Running Time 85 minutes

Written and Directed by Todd Solondz

Starring Jordan Gelber, Selma Blair and Christopher Walken

Two out of four stars