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Believe me, I get it. I didn't especially want to see a movie about a little girl being sexually abused either. Honestly if I'd known that was the plot, I probably would have skipped the film entirely. But that's the beauty of any film festival-- it encourages you to step into a theater to see a film you know almost nothing about, and allows you to push your own comfort zone by encountering a director you've never heard of, and a film unlike almost anything else.
Well, that's not entirely true. Dark Touch, the fourth feature from French director Marina de Van, owes a great debt to Carrie, unspooling a story about a young girl who's experienced severe trauma and develops kinetic powers to cope. Neve (Marie Missy Keating) is a luminously pretty but reserved 11-year-old who shows up at the neighbors' house one night covered in blood and screaming, having bitten her own tongue nearly in half. Her parents show up and apologize, but the kind neighbors (Padraic Delaney and Marcella Plunkett) are suspicious-- though in the grand tradition of horror movie characters making the absolute wrong decision, not suspicious enough to intervene.
The film's bravura set piece comes early on, as Neve's mother and father enter her room in what's clearly been a pattern of sexual abuse, and Neve's overwhelming powers cause the house to collapse and kill them both. It's a terrifying and hugely emotional scene-- de Van never puts her child actress in any real danger, but deft editing effectively conveys Neve terror, which only continues when she's involuntarily destroying both her house and her family. In the aftermath those same kind neighbors take Neve in, and once again ignore a lot of clear warning signs-- her aversion to being touched, a basement and kitchen wrecked while Neve sits crying at the table-- that what the cops are calling a "home invasion" is going to happen again thanks to this strange little girl.
Add in a pair of malnourished twins who seem to haunt Neve at night, a few tense scenes in which her powers threaten to wreak even more chaos, and a genuinely twisted finale, and Dark Touch becomes a fascinating and consistently surprising journey into the dark recesses of de Van's mind. The parts of the film meant to simply push the narrative along aren't nearly as successful, plodding along past needless subplots and hinging on everyone being far too aloof to Neve's problems. But when Dark Touch gets to go crazy, it's gripping and totally unique. De Van's already a favorite of horror aficionados thanks to In My Skin. She's now won herself another fan-- and as someone who generally shrinks away from any thing remotely resembling horror, that's high praise.
For our complete Tribeca Film Festival coverage, click here.