Darkling Movie Review



Reviewed for Film Factual by Abe Friedtanzer

Director: Dusan Milic

Writer: Dusan Milic

Cast: Miona Ilov, Slavko Stimac, Danica Curcic

Screened at: TheWrap Screenings series online, LA, 12/6/22

Opens: March 17th, 2022 (Serbia)

Growing up in a war zone is something many don’t have to imagine, and for others, it’s a daily reality. What might be thought of as normal and expected, like playdates or going to the movies, may be entirely possible in a region embattled in conflict, and knowing loss at a young age is also an unfortunate effect. Darkling showcases one family’s resilience in the face of impossible circumstances around them and the way in which each of them remains determined to stay in their home and not give in to the very real violence that threatens them at every moment. 

Milica (Miona Ilov) lives in a small house in the mountains of Kosovo with her mother Vukica (Danica Curcic) and her grandfather Milutin (Slavko Stimac). In the aftermath of war, Milica is transported every day by peacekeeping soldiers in an armored vehicle to attend school, where enrollment is constantly dropping because people have decided to finally pack up and leave. Both her father and her uncle are missing, but Milutin is convinced they are still alive, and they must remain in their home until their eventual return. 

While Darkling, which is Serbia’s official Oscar submission for Best International Feature this year, is set after a very distinct conflict, certain aspects of its environment require no translation or context. Milica is young and has only ever known uncertainty and violence, and concepts that she may not be old enough to understand are unavoidable, like the loss of family members and friends as a result of war and departure facing miserable prospects after the fact. Soldiers carry Italian-Serbian dictionaries because these people can’t comprehend each other’s languages, but they have a common mission of keeping their children safe from harm.

There is an additional layer of this film that has to do with its setting. Milica’s home is surrounded by forest, and, at night, they hear sounds that make them concerned about what could be out there. Electricity and power are not stable, which only adds to the potential terror of the unknown. It’s unclear whether a wild animal would actually be more terrifying than invading forces intent on staking their claim to someone else’s property and driving the inhabitants from their home, the very reason that so many of their neighbors have opted to seek solace and shelter elsewhere. 

Despite the noises that haunt its characters at night, this is a relatively quiet film, one that says just as much in unspoken moments as it does through its dialogue. Milutin represents an old guard who feels like no one can tell him to leave his own home, but he’s also likely suppressing the knowledge that his son and son-in-law will never come back since the possibility that they might be dead is too horrible to accept. Vukica is more realistic but also trying to cater to her father and her daughter to take care of them in their inescapable situation. 

Like another international Oscar entry this year, Ukraine’s Joyland, this film makes great use of simple locations that convey the experiences its characters have gone through as they endure war and its aftereffects. Its three main actors deliver emphatic performances, as do those who portray soldiers, clergy members, and others who are currently living in some part of the same reality as they are. There is a deep resonance to this story that all audiences should find, even if a conflict like this seems like the furthest possibility they could conjure. The way in which it utilizes its spaces and its greater setting are impactful, turning an intimate story of resilience into an echoing tale of survival.

104 minutes

Story – B+

Acting – B+

Technical – B

Overall – B+


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