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Shudder Secrets: From Black Explained

The horror genre has long been a vehicle to portray grief. The Changeling, Phantasm, Pet Semetary, and Hereditary are just a few examples. The monstrous can indeed serve as a metaphor for personal pain and loss. Shudder’s latest release, From Black, directed by Thomas Marchese, follows in this long and storied tradition. It also uses the occult, specifically a demon who makes one false promise after the other, to address a grieving mother’s addiction.

From Black has plenty of scares, and by the halfway point, it goes from about a 4 to a 9. However, the film’s more interesting points are the way it handles loss and addiction. It’s one of the strongest Shudder releases this year thus far, with sharp writing, a creepy atmosphere, and a heck of a performance by the lead, Anna Camp, who stars as Cora.

From Black’s Handling of Grief

As mentioned, at the center of this feature is the theme of grief. Cora’s son, Noah (Eduardo Campirano), has been missing for seven years by the time the film opens. Cora does her best to carry on and survive. She joins a support group and lands a job waitressing to pay the bills. However, it’s clear from the get-go that Cora may never be the same if she doesn’t see her son again, or, at the very least, find out what happened to him. Camp really shines in this performance. You can tell her character has gone through the emotional wringer. The actress really gives this performance her all. The anguish is ever-present on her face.

One of the most riveting and powerful scenes comes within the first 30 minutes when Cora is seated with her support group. After admitting that she barely opens up during their meetings, she finally talks. What she has to say is totally devastating and conveys her profound sense of loss. She basically admits that she’s lost all hope and she’s losing faith that she’ll ever see her child again. She even questions if God punished her. Further, she self-isolates and tires of everyone offering to be her friend, including her sister, Bray (Jennifer Lafleur). It’s obvious all the isolation only compounds Cora’s problems, but she doesn’t care. It’s an incredibly raw and well-scripted sequence.

From Black and Its Portrayal of Addiction

In that same emotionally charged scene, Cora also talks about her addiction. This theme deepens when a member of the group, Abel (John Ales), offers her a way to see her son again. To do so requires great sacrifices, specifically the souls of others. If I have one minor complaint about this feature, it’s that the demon isn’t given much backstory. He sounds like the demon from The Witch, but as far as I can tell, he doesn’t even have a name. The creature design looks cool, but a little more backstory on the horned one would have been interesting.

Despite my hangups about the demon, Cora’s foray into the occult and the sinister path Abel leads her down resemble the habits of an addict. Their rituals are completed in isolation. As the film progresses, Cora looks more and more like a junkie. She has dark half-moons under her eyes by the final act. The film opens with Cora in prison, questioned about a murder that took place, and it ends with her in prison. She’s barely recognizable from the woman we get to know earlier in the film.

Despite the risks that Cora fully understood, she still decides to take Abel up on his offer. It becomes the only way she can cope with the loss of her son. As an addict, she knows the repercussions, but she gives in anyways. Again, Camp’s performance here deserves praise. Her character really goes through quite the arc that tests Camp’s acting range. Luckily, she excels in the role, offering an emotional and gut-wrenching performance.

Overall, From Black successfully tackles the heavy themes of loss and addiction. While the film begins as a slow burn, by the halfway point, it descends into a woman’s personal hell. She’s even stalked by a demon who just won’t let her go. This is an arresting film with a moving and tragic story at its center.

From Black releases on Shudder this Friday. Stay updated on the streaming service’s latest content by following my Shudder Secrets column.