Wide World of Horror: ‘T.M.A. (Darkness’) – confusing plot only makes for a confusing film

T.M.A. (Darkness)download (1)
Screenplay by Martin Nemec
Directed by Juraj Herz
Czech Republic, 2009

A story isn’t always just a story. As one becomes more and more of a horror aficionado this becomes abundantly clear. Horror, perhaps moreso than any other genre, relies heavily on atmosphere and emotion in lieu of story. T.M.A. fits in with this method, but it does something in its final half that is often the bane of a haphazardly made horror film. The film builds itself up as entirely about emotion and atmosphere and then shoehorns in a story. Any movie can have story together with atmosphere and emotion; it’s foolish to suggest otherwise. It’s just as foolish to think your film needs a story and to put one together piecemeal style so that said story makes no sense.

It’s not hyperbole to say that T.M.A.’s story doesn’t make any sense. It’s a valid reading of the film and the inadequacies of Martin Nemec’s screenplay. The bad acting can easily be forgiven. The same holds true for the needlessly non-linear nature of the narrative. Neither of those elements would have hurt the film much if it had stayed the course with its atmosphere over plot motif. The final thirty minutes of the film switch things up so much that the non-plot based flaws become glaringly large. When T.M.A. does finish it’s not simply confusing, it’s confusing for no discernible reason.

The path that T.M.A. takes as a film is an odd one. By relying so heavily on its plot for its ending it begs the question; why not set up that plot from the beginning? There’s not really a good answer to that question. Just as there’s not really a good reason for why Juraj Herz felt his film needed and ending so heavy on plot. The ending can’t be done away with though, it ends up dominating the film in an entirely negative way.

tma-2The more one thinks about T.M.A. the more confusing the film becomes. Not just in terms of its plot but also in how said plot works with the other elements of the film. Confusion isn’t always a bad thing, but it becomes a bad thing when the film in question isn’t aiming for confusion. Those behind T.M.A. most likely felt that the ending they gave the film made perfect sense. They also probably felt that the ending tied everything together and would leave the viewer feeling satisfied as the film ended. Their belief was unfounded, their faith misplaced. The ending of T.M.A. is unsatisfying and destroys anything the film had been working for prior to the beginning of the ending.

It would make sense to compare T.M.A. to a giallo film. The film has many giallo elements at play, but unlike the
very best gialli T.M.A. feels the need to present the film as a neatly compartmentalized box. A failed gialli, that’s what T.M.A. most represents. It’s a failed attempt at being a horror film full of atmosphere and mood. Plot can be great, but it’s not always needed. Those behind T.M.A. think too highly of plot and the end result is a film that’s not worth thinking about very much.

-Bill Thompson

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