Dark Whispers Volume 1 is “Australia’s first all-female horror anthology.” That means all ten stories, plus the wraparound story, are directed by women. The film begins with Clara (Andrea Demetriades) arriving at her mother’s house to start packing up her things, when she finds a book in the kitchen cupboard. This ends up being Dark Whispers Volume 1, and each segment of the anthology is one of the stories from the book.
It’s no accident Clara found the book when she did and an inscription inside lets us know her mother wanted her to have it when she passed away. While some anthologies offer a mixture of happy stories with gruesome ones, all of the stories in Dark Whispers are pretty dark and while Clara eventually decides she’s had enough with reading, the book keeps forcing her to go on despite herself.
It begs the question why a mother would foist such a tomb on their grieving daughter, yet the result is a film that says a lot about the immensity of grief, and how much people can handle. It might have been cool if some of the entries could’ve been upbeat, since after a while it ruins some of the suspense of not knowing what’s going to happen. When the outcome’s always the same, what’s the point of holding out hope, but at the same time all of that misery pays off when it comes to the wraparound story, which Megan Riakos wrote and directed (she’s also the anthology’s creator).
Given the number of stories, all of the segments are fairly short, which leaves some feeling thin but helps others not overstay their welcome. Angie Black’s “Birthday Girl” benefits the most from a brief runtime, because it forces the film to keep it simple and not overexplain. Michael Harden wrote the screenplay and basically the film is about a mother (Sarah Bollenberg) waiting for the elevator to arrive. There are so many ways the film could go, though – does the elevator show up? Will she have to take the stairs? Will the elevator stall between floors?
Jub Clerc’s “Storytime” uses a campfire scenario to introduce the Gooynbooyn woman who dwells in the Mangroves. Sylvia Clarke wrote the screenplay, and this is the segment that most calls out to be extended into a feature length movie.
Other segments that stand out include Isabel Peppard’s “Gloomy Valentine” (which she co-wrote with Warwick Burton) and Madeleine Purdy’s “Little Share House of Horrors” (which she co-wrote with Joel Perlgut). “Gloomy Valentine” is the only animated segment and, while the plot is essentially heartbreak, the visuals are creepy in the best way (like a mirror that looks like it’s about to swallow the protagonist whole). “Little Share House of Horrors” is, of course, a play on Little Shop of Horrors, and it’s possible there’s a dangerous plant. All of the details in this short are spot-on, including some very wrong Halloween costumes that nobody comments on but reinforces the fact that they’re supposed to be going to a Halloween party.
Whether every short is successful, the next anthology would be different so hopefully “volume one” means there will be a sequel. Dark Whispers Volume 1 will be available on all major digital platforms (including iTunes) in Australia and the UK starting Monday January 25th.