Sydney Film Festival Review: What’s In the Darkness (18+) (China, 2016)

Dark and clever, What’s in the Darkness is in a league of its own being a mixture of crime and coming of age story. Directed by first-time director Wang Yichuan, the story follows teenager Jing (Su Xiaotong) who’s discovering her identity and sexuality. Soon she gets tangled up with a case involving a serial killer who has wreaked havoc in her town. She starts to come up with her own theories.

The film beautifully balances its focus on Jing and her life – she goes through typical teen phases including tense relationships – and her involvement with the case which serves as some sort of rite of passage. Having a female, a more realistic Nancy Drew with issues, take on an investigation was refreshing. The detective part follows a similar style to Zodiac, perhaps more raw and confronting, leading to a twist to the whodunit tropes.

The film explores the root of evil which is found everywhere in society and no authority is there to find the real culprit of a crime. They jump to suspicions and wanting to solve cases carelessly instead. The town is also stuck between old and new worlds, and Jing struggles to navigate them and navigate away from predatory sexual advances. The murders prompt her to fight back in some way and bring justice and change to her town.

What’s in the Darkness leaves you with an open ending – Jing’s story and place in a terrifying world is left to speculation and perhaps for some, it’s unsettling and disappointing. You want an investigation you’ve been following on the edge of your seat end with results, wouldn’t you?

Despite this, the film is one to watch if you’re brave enough.


What’s in the Darkness screened at this year’s Sydney Film Festival.


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