Producers: Oliver Kassman and Wendy Griffin   Director: Andrew Cumming   Screenplay: Ruth Greenberg   Cast: Safia Oakley-Green, Chuku Modu, Kit Young, Iola Evans, Luna Mwezi, Arno Luening, Tyrell Mhlanga and Rosebud Melarkey    Distributor: Bleecker Street

Grade:  C+

We’re accustomed to reading subtitles for films in a foreign language, but here’s one that employs them to translate an invented language called Tola, fashioned by Daniel Andersson, who supposedly drew from Basque, Arabic and Sanskit sources to create it.

Tola is spoken by the small group of Stone Age pilgrims in Andrew Cumming’s “Out of Darkness,” set, the opening caption tells us, 45,000 years ago.  They’re led by Adem (Chuku Modu), a grim, muscular type who has lost faith in the tribal leadership’s ability to lead their people to flourishing land during a time of famine.  He decides to strike out across the sea instead, taking with him his pregnant wife Ave (Iola Evans) and their adolescent son Heron (Luna Mwezi), along with Adem’s restrained younger brother Geirr (Kit Young), a pessimistic elder named Odal (Arno Luening) and Beyah (Safia Oakley-Green), a young “stray” woman the family has allowed to join them, though their treatment of her is hardly warm.

The group manages to traverse the water and reach a new land, but it proves as barren as the one they left.  There’s a forest nearby, but they’re reluctant to enter it after they hear a piercing shriek coming from it, the cry of some unknown, presumably dangerous, beast.

But if they won’t come to it, it will come to them; and as they sit around their fire one night, Heron is suddenly snatched away.  That rouses Adem, who impulsively rushes into the forest to rescue him, forcing the rest to follow despite their misgivings.  Predictably, they begin to be picked off one by one, though the enemy is not always whom you might expect.  Reckless courage and understandable cowardice are both at play, with members of the group arguing about whether to try to kill the creature or appease it ritually, until finally the survivors of the mayhem—who they are will not be revealed here—find the cave where the dreaded monster resides, and enter it. 

The film, which was originally titled, rather meaninglessly, “The Origin,” is an intriguing curiosity, not only because of the made-up language, which the cast deliver with surprising facility (though who could tell if they got something wrong?), but because of the stunning locations in the Scottish Highlands, which cinematographer Ben Fordesman captures in some impressive widescreen visuals. 

One must say, though, that despite those unusual elements, the plot of the film is not especially imaginative.  The notion of a small band of people being attacked by some unseen but fearsome being is not exactly new, and though Cumming and editor Paulo Pandolpho, along with composer Adam Janota Bzowski, manage to keep the tension percolating reasonably well over the course of the relatively modest running-time, you might be exasperated by the final revelations that screenwriter Ruth Greenberg has in store.  In the end this is a humanistic movie rather than a horror film in any conventional sense; the question it wants you to ask in the end is “Who’s the real monster here?”  While intellectually interesting, after all the genre tropes that have been deployed along the way many viewers will find that a letdown.

Nonetheless “Out of Darkness,” made on an obvious shoestring (and during the pandemic as well), is quite ambitious, and though the acting isn’t, frankly, much better than utilitarian, it suffices.  Chalk it up as an oddity that, in the end, delivers less than it promises.