Scary Movies

Joe Berlingers worked-over Blair Witch 2, Mark Singers lovely Dark Days

Here's vérité for you: Marc Singer, a young British scuba instructor and male model, jettisoned his life to live among the homeless who, some of them for as long as 20 years, have called an Amtrak railway tunnel their home. During the two years he spent there, Singer made a black-and-white movie using settlement people as crew. The result is Dark Days, which is nowhere near as glum as its title suggests. Respectful without the hushed tones of sorrow that documentaries on such subjects often affect, unadorned but for a touch of soulful soundtrack by DJ Shadow, the movie shows a community at work and play in surprisingly ordinary ways. The men and women, among them practicing or recovered crack addicts, cook, clean house, shower, shave, watch TV, set up security systems, tend pets, plot the next day's earnings, hang out, quarrel, and prop up one another when the going gets rough. Just like the rest of us, with the significant difference that they share space and compete for food with a multitude of rats, including the ones who show up from Amtrak to evict them.

Actually, Singer demonizes nobody. Nor does he romanticize the people who live in this dank habitat amid the constant roar of trains rushing through the tunnel. The movie is often very funny, not just when the crew mugs for "my friend Marc"'s camera, but organically so, as when they discuss the particularly appealing lunch menu at their favorite detox center, or the respective merits of the doughnuts they find as they rummage through trash bags above ground. Just as organically, it can break your heart as you watch and listen to the anguish of a doped-out woman pining for the kids who've been taken away from her. Dark Days even has a naturally occurring happy ending. Designed neither to warm your heart nor shelter you in the comfort of liberal guilt, the movie does what so many style-conscious, "subjective" documentaries have long forgotten how to do. It shows you a world, and stays the hell out of it.

Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 was directed by Joe Berlinger; written by Dick Beebe and Berlinger; produced by Bill Carraro; and stars Jeffrey Donovan, Kim Director, Erica Leerhsen, Tristen Skyler and Stephen Barker Turner. Now playing countywide; Dark Days was directed and produced by Marc Singer. Now playing at Landmark's Nuart, West Los Angeles.

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